Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington, the first Indian American woman in the House of Representatives, gracefully turned what several tweeters termed a “ridiculous” question about her citizenship status, into a pitch for comprehensive immigration reform on C-Span’s Washington Journal news program May 10.
The freshman congresswoman, who is a member of the House Judiciary subcommittee on immigration and border security, and the first vice chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, answered several questions from host Pedro Echevarria on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, an Obama-era initiative that shields more than one million undocumented youth from deportation, and allows them to receive work permits and drivers’ licenses. President Donald Trump ended the program last September, but three judges around the country have issued injunctions to keep the program going. The administration must – for now – issue renewals to those who already have DACA status, but cannot accept any fresh applicants into the program.
During the question and answer portion of the show, “Steve,” from Reno, Nevada, who came in on the Republican phone line – the program has separate phone lines for Republicans, Democrats, and Independents – asked Jayapal: “I just wanted to know if the congresswoman herself as a U.S. citizen.”
Jayapal gave a quick laugh before taking on the question, noting that one has to be a U.S. citizen to be a member of Congress. “I am a proud U.S. citizen. I became a citizen in 2000. I've lived in this country for since I was 16 years old. I will not tell you my age, but I can promise you is a very long time,” she said with another laugh.
She noted that she came to the U.S. at the age of 16, by herself, on a student visa, and added that it took 17 years for her to become a U.S. citizen. “I have not been through the situation some of these kids have been through because everything I did was through the visa system, which is very broken,” she said.
“We are talking about a DACA fix, but we need a whole fix of comprehensive immigration reform in general,” said Jayapal. “Most of our immigration laws have not been adjusted for decades. It keeps getting tossed back and forth because it is complicated.”
“I would argue that everyone's best interests are served when we stop making immigration a political issue and just recognize that immigration has always served our country. It always will. What we need is a system, a set of updated laws that actually responded to the needs of all of our country,” she said.
“The legal immigration system is completely broken,” stated Jayapal, noting that it could take more than 22 years for the adult child of a legal permanent resident to get an immigrant visa to the U.S.
“Most of the undocumented population has been living here for 10, 15 years. It is simply not feasible to say we are going to deport everybody,” said Jayapal, noting the economic contributions of undocumented workers.
Jayapal gave an update on Congressional action on DACA, noting that there is a “discharge petition” making the rounds, sponsored by Rep. Carlos Cabello, a Republican from Florida. If Cabello’s petition goes through, four separate bills addressing DACA could be brought to the floor simultaneously; the one receiving 218 signatures would prevail.
Two are bi-partisan proposals. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, would also add a bill, which has not yet been written, said Jayapal. Another bill by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, a Republican from Virginia who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, is “extremely restrictive,” said Jayapal.
The congresswoman noted that numerous bi-partisan bills on the issues of DACA and immigration have been proposed. “It is really a shame that Speaker Ryan has refused to bring anything to the floor. This is forcing his hand. Republicans are forcing the Speaker's hand,” she said.