Wednesday, Sep. 13, 2017

Late GOP Sen. Domenici had unique immigration link: his mom

By By RUSSELL CONTRERAS

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Pete Domenici, the longest-serving senator from the most Hispanic state in the United States, kept his family's immigration experience private for years.

In one of his last speeches as a senator, the New Mexico Republican told his colleagues that his deceased mother had been an immigrant from Italy in the U.S. illegally.

The revelation stunned his Senate colleagues as they tried to wrestle through immigration reform measures in 2006 aimed at helping an estimated 11 million immigrants in the country without legal status. Those proposals, some backed by then-President George W. Bush, all failed.

According to Domenici, his family's saga began when his father, Cherubino Domenici, became a citizen after he was drafted into the Army during World War I.

A lawyer erroneously told his father that Alda Domenici, who came to the United States as a baby, became a citizen when they were married.

The truth came out during World War II when federal agents started checking on Italian-American families hunting for Italian sympathizers.

"Federal officials came to our house to arrest my mother while my father was at work," Domenici said from the Senate floor. "It was a frightening situation for my entire family that occurred through no fault of my mother, who had lived in America for more than 30 years as an exemplary citizen."

Domenici later said, as a small child, he wept as his mother disappeared in a black car.

She was later released.

Domenici said his experience convinced him to introduce legislation granting immigrants in the country illegally a pathway to citizenship. The bill failed.

Christine Sierra, a retired University of New Mexico political science professor, watched Domenici as he spoke on the Senate floor. "I was very impressed," Sierra said. "He was so straightforward. People remember that."

Gabriel Sanchez, a retired University of New Mexico political science professor, said Domenici helped out at his father's grocery story and had worked around working-class Hispanics.

Sanchez said those relationships helped the Republican win elections in a Democratic-leaning state with large support from Laitnos.

Domenici died Wednesday at 85.

Alda Domenici, a native of Fornovolasco, Italy, eventually became a citizen. She died in 1981.

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Follow Russell Contreras on Twitter at http://twitter.com/russcontreras

2017-09-13 18:52:26 GMT

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