Giffords Shooting Leaves Gap in Immigration Debate

US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords

US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. (Photo: Freedom to Marry/Flickr)

Gabrielle Giffords is considered a moderate on a range of issues including immigration, and she was expected to play an important role in congressional debate on the issue this year.

Her anticipated lengthy absence from Congress, while she recovers from a gunshot wound to the head from Saturday’s assassination attempt, raises a number of tough questions.  Among them – the future of U.S. immigration policy.

Her southern Arizona district includes a significant section of the U.S.-Mexico border. She supported the DREAM Act, which would have provided a path to legal status for many undocumented young people.  She has also been a strong advocate for increased border security, and she opposed Arizona’s SB 1070, considered one of the most restrictive immigration laws in the nation.

On her website she states:

“Since I first went to Congress, protecting our borders has remained a high priority.  I have repeatedly fought for more Border Patrol agents and technology to secure our border. In addition, I have worked to increase funding for the State Criminal Alien Program (SCAAP), a federal program that reimburses local law enforcement agencies for the apprehension and detention of illegal immigrants.”

For Isabel Garcia, director of Derechos Humanos a human rights coalition based in Tucson, Arizona, the attempt on Giffords’ life underscores what Garcia believes are misguided government priorities.

“What we know here is that we have some very dangerous people, they are the terrorists,” Garcia told Fi2W.  “Rather than giving Gaby (Giffords) security because of the threats, instead what we see is that immigrants are branded as terrorist and look at the consequences of that.”

The FBI and the Pima County Sheriff have confirmed that Giffords received threats against her life, but not from Jared Loughner, the man accused in Saturday’s shooting spree.  Six people, including a federal judge, an aide to Giffords and a 9-year-old girl, were killed in the shooting. Giffords and 13 others were wounded.

As the first Jewish woman elected to Congress from her state, Giffords has attracted considerable attention from Jewish groups.   The website JTA reports on a 2009 meeting between Giffords and faith groups from Arizona concerned about immigrant rights.

Her approach to the issue was typical for the moderate Democrat, (Josh Protas, former director of the Tucson-area Jewish Community Relations Council) said: She attempted to synthesize what she regarded as the valid viewpoints of both sides on the divisive issue.

“Understanding the complexities of the immigration situation was something important to her,” he said. It came from “a sense of the Jewish value around how we treat the stranger, a history of the Jewish community — but she had recognition of the strong need for security.”

Clearly, in addition to the lives lost and shattered in Saturday’s shooting rampage outside a Tuscon supermarket, a moderate voice in Congress has been sidelined at a time when moderate voices are desperately needed.

Valeria Fernandez contributed reporting for this story.

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