Thursday, August 31, 2006

More hearings in MT, IN & CO

The Congressional hearing roadshow is in its final week. After more than a dozen shows around the country, the stage will soon go dark...

MONDAY: In Hamilton, Montana, the hearing was convened by only two Congressman, Denny Rehberg, Montana's sole House representative and always colorfully anti-immigrant Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado. The hearing focused on how the lack of communication between federal and state agencies jeopardizes national border security. As in other hearings, almost all of the panelists worked in law or immigration enforcement and there was no contrary perspective. Congressman Rehberg apparently asked the House Majority leadership to hold a hearing be held in Montana. There could be many reasons for this: the state's long largely unprotected border with Canada or possibly the contentious election campaign for one of Montana's Senate seats. Senator Conrad Burns is considered the closest politician to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff because Burns accepted the most money from him. Burns is trying hard to distance himself from Abramoff and his party may think that riling up voters about immigration might just be one tactic.

TUESDAY: In Evansville, Indiana, some of the best speakers were actually outside the hearing. The Indy Star and the Courier Press reported that Dominican immigrant Freddy Peralta, who coordinates the Kentucky Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, gave out American flags and talked with people who were waiting in line to enter the hearings. He told the newspapers "The current immigration system is broken. It doesn't work, so people are forced to come to this country without documentation. What forces people to come here is actually the needs of the economy of the United States. You know, the jobs that are here. They come here because they are invited to work and they don't have the way of coming here legally." Well said...

Inside the hearing the same troupe of anti-immigrant think-tankers and enforcement folks spoke (by the way, what is the anti-immigrant Center for Immigration Studies travel budget if they go to all of these hearings?). Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., the only Democrat among the four congressmen at the hearing, said "We must roll up our sleeves and get to work on solving the problems created by the Bush administration instead of spreading fear of immigrants and driving further wedges between our citizens."

WEDNESDAY: In Aurora, Colorado, 300 people turned out for a hearing that was set up a little different (it was convened by the Senate Budget Committee). All of Colorado's elected officials seemed to have showed up, from Governor Bill Owens (who recently signed into law some of the harshest state-level immigration enforcement in the country), the Mayor of Aurora Mayor Ed Tauer and Colorado Senator Wayne Allard, who chaired the hearing. Tom Tancredo was conspicuously absent. There are three key electoral races for Colorado House seats in November and immigration looks like it will be a top issue.

Gabriela Flora of American Friends Service Committee, spoke to the Aurora Sentinel and criticized the hearing as a political stunt meant to garner votes for Republican candidates by stirring up anti-immigrant fervor. "To me, that's really an abuse of our taxpayer dollars and a power to use the immigration issues and immigrants as a way to gain political power," Flora said.

Much of the talk centered on the costs associated with immigration with little information on the benefits from immigrant workers. Irma Perez, who also attended the hearing, told the Rocky Mountain News that the hearing lacked information on what immigrants contribute to the country. "Instead of having statistics that compared what we get vs. what we give, they only brought up what we get," she said in Spanish. "If I buy a juice, I pay taxes. In my work, they take taxes."

FRIDAY: Stay tuned for highlights from the hearing in Dubuque, Iowa where Congress will hold the last hearing of the summer. Iowa is a state where there are two highly contested electoral races for seats in the House.

For more information on key Congressional races in November, see the National Public Radio Election Map 2006.

ACTION STEP: If you, your relatives or friends live in Montana, Indiana or Colorado, tell them to contact their Congressional representatives (202.224.3121) and express disappointment in the hearings. Tell them that the nation is tired of politicking and that they should get back to work on true immigration reform that protects the human rights of immigrants.