Immigration Hearing Focused on Grieving Mothers

     WASHINGTON (CN) — House Republicans on Tuesday used the testimony of two mothers of victims killed by people in the country illegally to attack the Obama administration’s immigration policies.
     Michelle Root and Laura Wilkerson provided tearful, moving testimony about their children at the start of the hearing that served as backdrops for lawmakers to lob criticism of immigration policy that fell strictly along party lines. Both women pleaded with the committee to take action to change immigration laws.
     “There are thousands of our stories out there,” Root said. “Something needs to be done.”
     Sarah Root, 21, died in a car accident in January after a person in the country illegally allegedly rear-ended her while driving drunk and drag racing. The alleged driver, Eswin Mejia, posted 10 percent of his bail after being charged in Root’s death and fled town.
     Josh Wilkerson, 18, died in 2010 at the hands of a person who had allegedly overstayed his visa for eight years and who ICE reportedly declined to take hold of after a harassment charge months before.
     The elder Wilkerson retold from the witness stand in graphic detail Hermilo Moralez’s description of how he killed her son by punching him in the face, kneeing him in the abdomen and then beating him with a curtain rod. Moralez then put her son in the trunk of a truck, dumped his body in a field and lit it on fire, Wilkerson said.
     Moralez was convicted of the murder in 2013 and sentenced to life in prison.
     Wilkerson told the House Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security on Tuesday morning that she was astounded by what she saw as the Obama administration’s unwillingness to follow immigration laws, and rejected arguments that tough immigration laws instill fear into people in the country illegally.
     “Do you all know what fear is?” Wilkerson said through tears. “When somebody reaches in your house and grabs your littlest kid and tortures him, you’re afraid of everything for a long time. I could care less about the fear that they’ve put themselves in here. I didn’t bring my kid across the border.”
     Republican charges against the administration’s immigration policies reached their strongest point when Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, wondered whether President Barack Obama deserved blame for the deaths of Root and Wilkerson.
     “And quite frankly all this makes me wonder if President Obama might be an accessory to the crimes committed by illegal immigrants, since he intentionally undertook policies that he knows are going to result in the murder and loss of life and injury to innocent Americans,” Smith said.
     Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., interrupted with a parliamentary inquiry, noting committee rules prohibit members from charging the president with a crime.
     While committee members regularly referenced Root and Wilkerson’s testimony during the hearing, they asked them relatively few questions. Instead, lawmakers directed most of their questions towards United Methodist Church Bishop Minerva Carcano, who pleaded for compassionate immigration reform and cautioned against lumping everyone in the country illegally in with Root and Wilkerson’s killers.
     “I implore you to reject blind vengeance, which is never restorative and is not practical,” Carcano said in her opening statements. “We must not allow our grief to divide our communities and engender hate and fear against immigrant brothers and sisters.”
     As an advocate for comprehensive immigration reform, as well as a path to citizenship for people in the country illegally and labor laws designed to protect all types of immigrations, Carcano took the brunt of the Republicans’ attacks.
     Rep. Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican who chaired the hearing, especially took exception to Carcano’s calls not to generalize the population, accusing her of doing just that by suggesting all 12 million people in the county illegally were seeking to become law-abiding citizens.
     After Gowdy asked her about what laws Carcano would propose to prevent incidents like the shooting death of Kate Steinle, also allegedly at the hands of a person in the country illegally, Carcano advocated for nuance in discussing immigrants and immigration policy.
     “That’s a very tragic situation,” Carcano said. “But you cannot blame all immigrants, documented or undocumented, for the action of one person, and that’s what you are doing.”
     Gowdy suggested the bishop’s approach to immigration law was dangerous.
     “Your approach is to wait for the murder and then do the deportation,” Gowdy said.
     Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, also went after Carcano, saying her testimony and positions on immigration policy directly clashed with the experiences of Root and Wilkerson.
     “I can’t even put into words the pain that you must be going through and to hear the testimony, with all due respect, of Bishop Carcano, that she just really took no consideration [of] the pain and suffering that you’re going through, that Ms. Root, you’re going through,” Labrador said. “And to put the needs and benefit of people that are here illegally ahead of people that are born in the United States that are U.S. citizens, that have suffered like you have suffered, I can’t even put into words how disgusting it was in my opinion.”
     Rep. Bob Goodlatte and Carcano had a heated back and forth after the Virginia Republican accused Carcano of “aiding and abetting” people in the country illegally.
     Carcano insisted people who seek to come to the United States do so not because they desperately want to come here, but because they have little other choice, laying some blame on U.S. foreign policy.
     “Central Americans have come here because we’ve been involved in their economies in disastrous ways,” Carcano said. “We’ve been involved in their politics in ways that have undermined their countries and left their societies in shambles.”
     While Wilkerson seemed to mostly agree with the committee Republicans on how to address immigration reform, she laid responsibility on all lawmakers to take action instead of simply talking about a solution.
     “I testified before the Senate last July of 2015 and told this story, nothing has been done about it,” Wilkerson said. “We can have hearing after hearing after hearing, until there’s action, we’re just talking.”
     The hearing comes the day after the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on Obama’s executive actions that would delay the deportation of 4 million people in the country illegally.

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