James Sensenbrenner, the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and author of the draconian House immigration bill (HR 4437), was in New Hampshire last week for the latest opening of the Congressional hearing roadshow. Even though no member of the public was allowed to speak and only one of the panelists was from New Hampshire, he was quoted as saying that the hearing was mean to "to get input from local people".
Of the five Congressional representatives in attendance, two were New Hampshire Congressmen who are up for reelection: Jeb Bradley and Charlie Bass. Bass said "I have no objection to the idea that we would have the debate in Concord, New Hampshire or Concord, California or anywhere else in the United States, because it's good for America to participate in this important issue." Yet, where was the participation that he was talking about?
The other panelists were from anti-immigrant groups: the Center for Immigration Studies and 9/11 Families for a Secure America. In his testimony, Peter Gadiel, called undocumented immigrants "thieves in the night" and said that "Illegal immigration is not a victimless crime." The problem with Mr. Gadiel's analysis is that none of the 9/11 hijackers were undocumented and Mr. Sensenbrenner's proposals would only drive people further underground by making them felons.
The Associated Press (AP) took stock of all the hearings to date and noted that they have been poorly attended, not only by the public but by Congressional representatives themselves. Some of the hearings have been attended by only two or three Congressmen/Congresswomen. The national media has also had other more pressing issues to pursue (like JonBennets' killer?). AP quoted Gary Jacobson, an expert in congressional politics at the University of California, San Diego: "People don't pay attention to these things, except the C-SPAN junkies. It's not surprising that it's fizzled."
Another hearing that was scheduled for Friday in upstate New York was canceled with one week's notice. A spokesman for the Judiciary Committee told AP that logistical difficulties getting members to the meeting from a panel in Concord, NH, that took place the day before. New York immigrant rights advocates were planning on attending the hearing and were outraged at the cancellation. They held a demonstration in New York City that more than a hundred people attended. Only Spanish-language El Diario and Hoy covered the demonstration.
Rep. James Sensenbrenner considers the hearings a success and said the meetings allowed lawmakers "to hear testimony from local people, as well as to talk with them informally." It's unclear what hearings he is referencing since none of them seem to have provided this opportunity.
More hearings are scheduled this week in Montana, Indiana and Iowa. AFSC is convening a counter hearing in Aurora, Colorado.
ACTION STEPS: Contact Representative Sensenbrenner (Tel: 202.225.5101 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org) and tell him that he needs to truly listen to the public about their views of immigration. Tell him the hearings were a failure because Americans who support immigrant rights and immigrants themselves were not called to testify. Tell him that you are disappointed in his leadership.