Wednesday, June 21, 2006

New Delay Tactic: Public Hearings

It's been nearly a month since the Senate passed its version of immigration reform. The next step was supposed to be a conference committee to reconcile it with the House version. Instead Congressional leaders announced yesterday that they are considering a series of public hearings on immigration.

According to the Wall Street Journal, "The decision effectively throws the issue, on which both the Senate and House have voted, back to the debate stage rather than advancing it with intensive negotiations for the two chambers to try to bridge their cast differences. It also reduces the chance that a compromise will be reached this fall, when campaigning for re-election will become the focal point for many lawmakers."

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, was reported as saying "We are going to listen to the American people, and we are going to get a bill that is right. Our No. 1 priority is to secure the border and right now I haven't heard a lot of pressure to have a path to citizenship." Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) sent out a press release and said that "The Republican House wants to defeat the immigration bill. This is a stall."

A White House spokeswoman said Mr. Bush would press for legislation. "The president is undeterred in his efforts to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill," said the spokeswoman, Dana Perino, who said the White House was "committed to working with members to see if we can reach a consensus on a bill that will help solve our nation's immigration problems." Senator Harry Reid of Nevada called on Mr. Bush to prod members of his party. "He has complete domination over this Republican Congress," Mr. Reid said. "Let him tell us how much he really wants a bill." (New York Times article)

The November elections are still looming in the distance. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) told the L.A. Times "My own view is that Republicans want to use it as a campaign issue." Maybe Republicans are looking to the example of Brian Bilbray, a Republican in San Diego County California won the House seat left by disgraced Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham by campaigning almost entirely on the need to get tough on illegal immigration. Stalling the process until closer to the election could be risky. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina admitted "The question is, Is it better to solve the issue before the election, or is it better to make people mad and do nothing?"

Whatever their purpose, the public hearings will pose many interesting questions. It's a safe bet that the Congressional representatives are counting on only U.S. citizens (and mostly incensed ones at that) coming to the hearings. How much do you want to bet that you need a US driver's license or ID card to get into one of these hearings? At the same time, why would undocumented people take the risk of attending one of these hearings? Will they be able to stand up, identify themself as undocumented, speak from their experience and not fear being nabbed? Will DOCUMENTED immigrants feel welcome to come to the hearings if they know folks like the Minute Men could be there too? What will be the scope of the hearings? Will they address globalization and the impact of NAFTA in creating migration flows?

Hopefully AFSC will have information soon about the hearings so that YOU can go and express your concern about the legislation and ask for TRUE comprehensive immigration reform.