Perhaps we expect too much of our Congressional leaders. Perhaps we should have read Ruben Navarrette's column before going to the hearing. Then maybe we wouldn't have left at the end with such a bad taste in our mouths.
Over the last few months in the immigration reform debate, we have been clinging to the hope that eventually substance will prevail over posturing. Today's Congressional hearing in San Diego did not instill any such hope. Instead we saw highly scripted theater that played out as a farce.
We had a good idea about what the hearing would be like. The meeting location at the Imperial Beach Border Patrol office, less than a mile from the border, was imposing enough, not hospitable for anyone who wants to publicly complain about their treatment by the Border Patrol. The previously announced list of panelists contained an array of border patrol agents, sheriffs, vigilantes but not one immigrant rights advocate. Many advocates opted to stay outside and protest the hearing. They erected crosses to memoralize border deaths. Scores of Minute Men and anti-immigrant folks piled into the hearing room and journalists cordially took down their thoughts on "rejecting amnesty".
Then the Congressional Representatives spoke, both Republican and Democrat. The stated subject was the threat of terrorists crossing the border but from the get-go, the audience (yes, audience is the right word since we were not allowed to speak) knew that this was going to be a highly partisan debate. So many poisonous words and phrases like "invasion" and "incursion" were thrown out during the "hearing", there isn't room here to go into them all. One panelist even suggested that tired and patently inaccurate assertion that Arab terrorists look so much like Mexicans and could easily blend in...and this was left unchallenged.
One of the most disappointing was the Democratic response that blamed the Republican-controlled Congress and White House for doing nothing about border enforcement. Congressman Sherman had his aides hold up graph charts showing the amount of spending on the border during the Clinton Administration in comparison to Bush's. No mention was made of the 1996 Immigration Act that drastically expanded immigration enforcement and how ten years later all we can discuss is more of the same. It was plain to see the Democratic Party's current predicament in our nation today: no new ideas.
For the few pro-immigrant folks in the room, there was little to cheer for, not like the anti-immigrant majority in attendance who boisterously let their thoughts be known. The anti-immigrant Representatives clearly felt their love. The Committee Chairman attempted to quiet them but they cheered for scandalous ideas like picking up 'illegals' at the Home Depot parking lot or forced labor camps for undocumented people and booed when one sheriff pointed out that we can't live without undocumented labor. When a speaker spoke about the danger of racial profiling, someone loudly exclaimed "So what?!". During one short intermission between panels, someone else yelled "GOD BLESS THE BORDER PATROL!"
For an International Relations Committee, it was interesting that there was no discussion of globalization or the root causes for migration. Instead everyone talked about turning off the "magnet" of jobs and benefits ("Free health care" according to one ill-informed Congressman). Nothing was said about what is pushing them here.
Instead this was brought up on the other side of the country at a hearing convened by Senator Arlen Specter in Philadelphia. There New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg commented, "It's as if we expect border control agents to do what a century of communism could not: defeat the natural market forces of supply and demand and defeat the natural human desire for freedom and opportunity. You might as well as sit in your beach chair and tell the tide not to come in."
Funny, the San Diego hearing was not far from the beach...
Call the Committee Chairman Congressman Ed Royce (202.225.4111) and tell him how disappointed you are in the hearings. They are far from democratic and well-rounded. Tell him we need serious discussion of immigration reform and not expensive P.R. stunts like the San Diego hearing.