Their positions on immigration are well known. Nevertheless, Democratic members of Congress Sheila Jackson Lee, Al Green and Gene Green of Houston, Joaquin Castro of San Antonio, and Marc Veasly of Fort Worth heard multiple witnesses on the benefits of comprehensive immigration reform at the crowded city council chambers.
Jackson Lee says the point wasn’t necessarily to change someone’s mind right then.
“We think that that’s important to put on the record. And we also think it’s important to hear from people on how they will be directly impacted. That’s this hearing: How will Houston and Texas directly be impacted by comprehensive immigration reform.”
She says she and her fellow Texan Democrats will convey the messages they heard to their colleagues in Washington.
People who spoke to the panel as witnesses came from law enforcement, business, education, faith and labor and were united in their support for comprehensive immigration reform.
Bob Harvey, president of the Greater Houston Partnership, says reform is necessary to give employers access to a large legal workforce.
“Importantly, the business community needs certainty and consistency to drive business growth and create jobs, and it’s clear from our perspective that the current legal immigration framework is simply unsustainable.”
Other witnesses included Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland, the Port of Houston’s deputy executive director of operations, Roger Guenther; University of Houston-Downtown President William Flores, and Harris County AFL-CIO President Richard Shaw, among others.
Jeronimo Cortina, a political science professor at the University of Houston, says the pressure on members of Congress from events like this is important.
“But, I mean, they’re going to be effective as long as they can be an electoral threat to members of Congress. If they’re not an electoral threat to them, you know, then their voices are going to be mute.”
Jackson Lee says she’s nevertheless hopeful that House Republicans will end up supporting comprehensive reform because, she says, it’s important for national security.
“I don’t know what member of Congress could oppose improving the national security of this nation. That means ensuring that you know who is here. Who is here to do good and who is here to do ill.”
Many House Republicans favor parts of the immigration bill passed by the Senate but many oppose the path to citizenship it would provide.
The Democrats present at the forum all said they would not support any kind of piecemeal approach to an immigration overhaul.
The general message was that “time is now” for comprehensive reform.