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Senators take apart immigration bill in second day of Judiciary hearings

Bill Przyluvki outside immigration hearing in Washington DC.
Bill Przyluvki outside immigration hearing in Washington DC.
Kitty Felde/KPCC

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The Senate Judiciary Committee heard from nearly two dozen witnesses today at an all-day hearing on the 844-page immigration bill.

There was tearful testimony from a DREAMer—a student brought to the U.S. as a child—who implored senators to make her family legal.

Representatives from the high tech industry told the committee members that they'd be willing to pay double for visas to bring in highly educated foreign workers. And they want the government to spend that extra money on education so American students have the skills needed in the computer industry.

And as expected, there were critics who label this immigration measure "amnesty" because it gives people who've entered the U.S. illegally a way to become legal residents.

Ag Workers

Most of the day was spent looking at the provision that allows 112,000 temporary farm workers to enter the U.S.

Farmers told senators 80,000 acres of fruit and vegetable production have left California for other countries because of labor shortages.

But the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee—Iowa's Chuck Grassley—said he's heard farmers come before Congress and say they need workers.

"OK, we bring in these workers, then they migrate someplace else, and people illegally came in afterwards," he said.

Grassley said that's what happened in 1986, the last time Congress passed a comprehensive immigration bill.

"How do we avoid that mistake we made in 1986?" he asked.

California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, who negotiated the ag worker portion of the bill, tried to reassure her colleague, saying they'd done "the best we could to put together a bill which satisfy your concerns and also enables farmers in America to get a consistent supply of ag workers."

Boston bombing = go slow on immigration

There was also a lively exchange on the topic of terrorism.

The morning started off with a warning from Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont to fellow Senators: Don't exploit the Boston marathon bombing as a reason to “derail” the immigration reform bill. 

“A nation as strong as ours can welcome the oppressed and persecuted without making compromise our security," said Leahy.

Several senators not on the Judiciary Committee are saying the Boston bombing is a legitimate reason to delay action on the bill.

Dan Coats (R-Indiana) says immigration has “national security implications,” while Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) says Congress shouldn’t proceed there's an understanding of "the specific failures" of the immigration system "made even more evident last week.”

Chuck Schumer (D-New York)—one of the "Gang of Eight" that crafted the bill and a senator who does sit on Judiciary—suggested his colleagues amend the bill, not delay it.

"I say that particularly those who are pointing to what happened, the terrible tragedy in Boston I would say an excuse for not doing a bill delaying it many months or years," said Schumer.

That prompted an angry interruption from Grassley, who complained to Schumer, "I never said that! I never said that."

On Friday, Grassley said the hearing was an opportunity to “refocus” on the “importance of remaining vigilant and securing the homeland.” Today, he said the bill crafted was a “starting point” for the other 92 senators to weigh in.

Over on the House side, Speaker John Boehner said on Fox News that fixing immigration system “may actually help us understand who all is here, why they’re here, and what legal status they have.”

Long lines outside hearing room

The Senate hearing room was packed with immigration activists.

Bill Przylucki with the L.A. group People Organized for Westside Renewal Power, which works with low-income people in West L.A. and the San Fernando Valley, watched the committee hearing.

He said his Irish great-grandmother who "would have a very tough time becoming a citizen" under the provisions in the bill.

"She came with no skills, no literacy," said Przylucki. "Her children, her grandchildren have prospered here."

A third day of hearings has been added.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano testifies Tuesday on the bill provision most Republicans do support: beefing up border security. Her previously scheduled appearance Friday was cancelled due to the Boston bombing.