“I hate illegals.” That is what Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) told an 18 year-old undocumented college student who was visiting him during his office hours. Jessica Bravo, a DREAMer from Mexico, had gone to the Representative’s office to share her life experiences with the hope of persuading him to vote for comprehensive immigration reform with a clear path for young people like herself to attend college and eventually gain citizenship. Ms. Bravos has lived in Rohrabacher’s 48th Congressional District since she was three and brought into the country through no choice of her own. The 48th includes parts of the largely-Latina/o cities of Santa Ana and San Pedro.
Instead, according to witnesses, Rohrabacher screamed at Ms. Bravo and even made a veiled threat to deport her family as she left the office in tears. The young woman is a first year student at Golden West College in Huntington Beach and is DREAM Act-eligible. It remains unclear is she applied for deferred status as a deportable person under Obama’s recent executive order designed to help young people like herself stay here and study.
According to witness reports, the exchange was a tense but respectful discussion of policy, that is, until Rohrabacher lost his temper when Ms. Bravo declared herself an undocumented student. It takes courage for someone that vulnerable to come out that way. It takes a mean streak and perhaps a racist moral core to respond the way the Congressman did.
According to a report on the exchange published in The Hill, Ms. Bravos stated that: “The moment I said that word [undocumented], it just completely changed the mood of the room…He kept interrupting me and he was just, like, ‘Oh, you know, I love Mexicans, but I hate illegals.’ He was just yelling at us and pointing his fingers. I couldn’t even talk anymore because I was crying.”
Rohrabacher’s office denied the report and accused Minerva Gomez, a friend accompanying Ms. Bravo, of initiating the heated exchange. According to The Hill, spokesperson Tara Setmayer claimed it was Minerva Gomez, a California-based immigration-reform advocate, who sparked the acrimonious exchange by suggesting that Rohrabacher’s opposition to comprehensive immigration reform was race-based. However, even this spokesperson did not retract the statement about “hating illegals” and made no effort to deny the deportation threat.
Pundits and reporters inside the Beltway have focused on how this comes down to a case of “he said, she said”, discounting the credible witness statements and completely ignoring the lack of an official retraction by the Congressman. One respected civil society organization, Presente.org, has launched a campaign calling on House Majority Speaker John Boehner to “publicly condemn” Rohrabacher for the attack on Ms. Bravo and the threat to deport her and her family. Elected officials are expected to behave in a more civil manner but Tea Party times have unleashed what seems like an unusually high level of vitriolic speech by members of Congress directed at their constituents.