TOPICS > Politics

House Leaders Begin Field Hearings to Build Support for Immigration Bill

July 5, 2006 at 6:25 PM EDT

TOM BEARDEN: Today’s House hearing, was held at the Imperial Beach Border Patrol station just south of San Diego. About 40 citizens, who were not allowed to ask questions, witnessed the proceedings, with the overflow outside in a tent.

It was the first in a series of field hearings Republican House leaders plan to hold in towns along the Mexican border. They say the purpose is to force the Senate and the president to get behind a get-tough immigration bill the House passed last year.

California’s Ed Royce is the committee chairman.

REP. ED ROYCE (R), California: In December, the House of Representatives passed the Border Protection Antiterrorism and Illegal Immigration Control Act. The Senate has passed a very different immigration bill. The House bill does more to gain operational control of our border.

The House bill requires more miles of fencing, while the Senate bill hinders fencing our southern border by requiring what one witness will testify to be unprecedented and problematic consultation with Mexican authorities.

This witness will testify also as to how the Senate bill ties the hands of state and local law enforcement officials in combating terrorism.

TOM BEARDEN: But the ranking Democrat on the committee, California Representative Brad Sherman, said the hearings are merely a show, designed to rally the Republican conservative base leading up the November elections.

REP. BRAD SHERMAN (D), California. These hearings are not designed to legislate. They’re designed to whip up public opinion. So, the hearings that our subcommittee is having here today have been swallowed up by this political agenda. I’m, frankly, mystified why Republican leadership wants us to start here today with a series of immigration hearings that are really dog-and-pony shows.

The reason I’m mystified is, they have got some really ugly dogs and some really mangy ponies, an ugly record of not controlling our border and not providing adequate resources to our Border Patrol.

TOM BEARDEN: The first witness was Darryl Griffin, chief Border Patrol agent for the San Diego sector. He told the committee that a criminal cartel designed for human trafficking could easily transport terrorists, too.

Webb County, Texas, Sheriff Rick Flores agreed.

RICK FLORES, Webb County, Texas, Sheriff: There’s room for anything and anybody. So long as smugglers can get top dollar, they will turn a blind eye to any threat their cargo, human or otherwise, might pose to the safety of Americans.

The Senate is split over the policy

TOM BEARDEN: The split over what to do about immigration policy was also evident at a Senate field hearing before a packed crowd at Philadelphia's Constitution Center. Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter's hearing focused on the Senate's proposed guest-worker program and on plans to create a path toward citizenship for many of the nation's estimated 12 million illegal immigrants.

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R), PENNSYLVANIA: The House of Representatives decided that, instead of moving to a conference promptly, as we sought to do, that they were going to have hearings across the country. Had we been able to be at a conference table in Washington today, I would have preferred that, frankly, to confer to try to bring to two bills together.

But we have a bicameral system. And when the House makes a move for hearings across the country, I think it is appropriate and necessary for the House -- for Senate to do the same thing.

QUESTION: Senator...

ARLEN SPECTER: And, eventually, we will come back to Washington.

TOM BEARDEN: Senator Ted Kennedy came, too, as a major supporter of the Senate bill.

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), Massachusetts: These people work hard, play by the rules, devoted to their families, devoted their faith, and want to make America a better country. So, we ought to be able to find the ways to be able to do that. That's what this hearing is about.

Illegal immigrants face problems

TOM BEARDEN: The mayor of Hazleton, Pennsylvania, Louis Barletta, said illegal immigrants ruined his town.

LOUIS BARLETTA, MAYOR OF HAZLETON, PENNSYLVANIA: And the final part of the ordinance makes English the language of official city business in Hazleton. Let me be clear. This ordinance is intended to make Hazleton one of the most difficult places in the United States for illegal immigrants.

Only legal immigrants are welcome in Hazleton. Illegal immigrants are not welcome, because they are draining our limited resources. My city has taken the first step to securing their future. But we need help.

The legislation would seal borders

TOM BEARDEN: But the Republican mayor of New York, where immigrants are a major part of the city's economy, said he could not support an enforcement-only bill.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (R), Mayor of New York: Members of the House of Representatives want to control the borders. So do we all. But by believing that by increasing Border Patrol alone will achieve that goal is even naive and shortsighted or cynical and duplicitous. No wall or army can stop hundreds of thousands of people each year.

TOM BEARDEN: The public wasn't allowed to ask questions in Philadelphia either.

Walter Adams turned out anyway.

WALTER ADAMS, Activist: Basically came to protest the hearing. It was closed to the public -- well, it was open to the public, but testimony was closed to, you know, people who really wanted to speak out.

QUESTION: What did you want to say?

WALTER ADAMS: Border enforcement, border enforcement only, and border enforcement now. We have to get these borders sealed.

TOM BEARDEN: The next House field hearing is scheduled for Friday in Laredo, Texas.