Saturday, August 19, 2006

Another week of "hearings"

Representatives from the House wrapped up another week of Congressional hearings on immigration. This week the roadshow (or circus as some have called them) rolled into Georgia with repeat performances in Texas, Arizona and California.

It is not clear if the hearings have met the goals that were designed for. Representatives claimed that they were intended to "listen to the American people" but their set-up clearly demonstrated that they were not intended for hearing a spectrum of viewpoints. The media and advocates have pointed out that the speakers at the hearings have been very one-sided and most of them spoke only to the enforcement-first concerns of the organizers.

So far, national media has not paid much attention and only local media gives them much coverage. But that may be the point. The hearings have been located in districts where there are contested Congressional seats. Riling up local communities helps promote immigration control as a hot button issue to draw out voters for the November elections.

Here's a summary of some of the hearings held this past week:

On Monday there were hearings were in Georgia and California. In Gainesville, Georgia, Congressional Representative Charlie Norwood of Georgia said "You can rest assured (the Senate's plan) will not become law" which was met with applause by the audience. Norwood also claimed that the Senate bill is the worst legislation he has seen in his 12 years in Congress.

Meanwhile in San Diego, the hearing focused on the preported costs of immigration but only two representatives showed up. Adding to the local costs of immigration, San Diego County Sheriff Bill Kolender added the costs of policing protests to the mix. But the hearing seemed unnecessary to some. One Minuteman was quoted as saying "I think it's getting repetitive. I have enough (information) going to four of them. I'm sure something new comes out each time, but its time to get something done."

On Tuesday in Dalton, Georgia, Congressmen Nathan Deal and Charlie Norwood attacked the Senate bill. Dalton City Council member Terry Christie said he was a little surprised at how strongly Deal and Norwood criticized the Senate immigration bill. Christie told a local paper "I leaned over to (Mayor Ray Elrod) and asked, 'Don't the Republicans control the Senate, too?'" In an editorial in the Dalton Daily Citizen gave credit to Congressman Neal for his honesty because, he said up front that he was there to sell the House version of immigration reform (enforcement-first).

On Wednesday in Houston, Texas Representative Sheila Jackson Lee called the hearing a "roadshow" and there were unexpected comments from panelists. Police Chief Harold Hurtt called provisions requiring police to enforce immigration law are "misguided and wrong," saying immigration enforcement would draw police away from more serious crimes. Councilmanilman Adrian Garcia said immigration enforcement would turn a 15-minute traffic stop into an hourlong ordeal and add paperwork, as officers were forced to comply with laws preventing them from stopping people solely because of race or ethnicity.

On Thursday, the puppet show were in two locations along the Mexican border. In El Paso, Texas, the puppet masters (Congressional reps) lost a little control of the hearing when El Paso Police Chief Richard Wiles said local police enforcing immigration law was not a good idea. He said "We don't have the time, we don't have the resources. It's not even proper to ask. It causes dissension." The representatives also questioned the recent conviction of two Border Patrol officers for violatingconstitutionalional rights and killing an undocumented immigrant in February (also see more on this in the earlier post: More deaths at the border while Congress dithers).

Also on Thursday in Sierra Vista, Arizona, a state where there are several key election contests, the representatives posed outrageous ideas about terrorists were coming acrosss the border. Representative Rick Renzi asked panelists "Are we watching the growth of mosques in Mexico?" and "How are we monitoring the radicalization of Muslims in Mexico?" Representative Darrell Issa, R-Calif., claimed that there are "widely published reports" of Hezbollah operations in Mexico, and asked what the panel members knew of that activity. Victor Manjarrez, deputy chief patrol agent for the Border Patrol Tucson Sector was baffled by some of these questions but said he was not aware of any of this, but "added that while his agency relies on intelligence in its operations, it is not an intelligence-gathering entity".

Also this week there were a number of counter hearings put together by immigrant rights advocates. Unfortunately they got even less local press than the Congressional versions. For example, advocates held a hearing at the University of Los Angeles that was attended by Representative Grace Napolitano and more than a hundred people. An internet search for coverage unearthed no (English-language) coverage. Sadly what does get attention is that hate groups and vigilantes threatened to disrupt a community hearing held on Thursday night in Arizona.

Where does this all leave us? Going back to the man who got this whole debate started, columnist Ruben Navarrette interviewed Representative James Sensenbrenner about where the debate is now. As the author of the hard-nosed enforcement-only House bill, Sensenbrenner told Navarrette that the way out of the impasse between the House and Senate is "to start with a clean piece of paper and put together a clean bill that is neither the House bill nor the Senate bill and then make sure it passes."