Saturday, September 02, 2006

Final performances: Dubuque, Iowa and Greeley, Colorado

On Friday, the final House-sponsored hearings were held in Dubuque, Iowa and Greeley, Colorado. As with other hearings, the national media paid little attention but the local newspapers.

In Iowa, the Telegraph Herald reported on the hearing. (To read the article click here and use 'immigration' for the user name and password.) As in hearings past, the public was not invited to participate beyond listening. The Telegraph Herald reported "the audience members thought they would get to register their opinions of what was said, Representative Sensenbrenner laid down the law, reminding them that the meeting would be held under congressional rules. "A hearing is not a cheering contest," he said, bringing the hearing to order after audience partisans reacted to fiery testimony by former Immigration and Naturalization Service special agent Michael Cutler."

The day before the hearing, religious leaders and immigrant rights advocates held a rally called "Bridges Make Better Neighbors" and crossed a bridge across the Mississippi to East Dubuque, Ill., and back.

Apparently the hearing was held in Iowa so that Senator Chuck Grassley could testify. The Senate has not held many immigration hearings at all in comparison to the House. Grassley voted against the Senate bill and he wanted the opportunity to explain why he opposed the bill. There are also two contentious House election races in November in which immigration could be a "hot-button" issue. The race for governor is also highly visible since the current Democratic governor is resigning and the position is up for grabs. For these reasons, Senator Majority leader Bill Frist was also in Dubuque this week to campaign for his party.

Meanwhile in Colorado, 120 people attended a hearing called by Rep. Marilyn Musgrave to discuss the DREAM ACT provisions in the Senate immigration bill. As usual, the panelists were not sympathetic to undocumented students. Kris Kobach, professor of law at the University of Missouri, said such a provision would be "...a slap in the face to Americans who play by the rules and follow the laws." In covering the hearing for the Greeley Tribune, Reporter Millete Birhanemaskel started her article with a question: "What if your future was being debated by strangers, and all you could do was stand idly by and watch? Everything they said directly affected you, but you couldn't say a word. Eighteen-year-old Alex Chadira didn't have to imagine." Wow. A few days later, the editor responded to accusations from readers that the reporting was biased. In his blog, Randy Bangertour said "The reporter decided to show the impact of this public policy decision through the eyes of a student in the audience. To me that isn't taking sides, but it's good reporting."

In sum total, what have the hearings meant to the larger immigration reform debate? In an editorial, the L.A. Times dubbed this summer the "Silly Season" and Congress' series of field hearings that "showcas[ed], in the words of Immigration Reform Caucus member Rep. Charlie Norwood (R-Ga.) at a Georgia hearing, "witnesses who agree with me, not disagree with me." ' In other words, the hearings were merely a roadshow in the larger electoral campaigns.

Now that House representatives have wrapped up their hearings and finished their summer break, they start work again after Labor Day. But will they get back to the work of working out a compromise between the House and Senate bills? or will they take a second look at the bills after what they've supposedly learned from the public? With the November elections only two months away, it looks doubtful.

ACTION STEP: Write an e-mail to Greeley Tribune editor Randy Bangert ( and reporter Millete Birhanemaskel ( and thank them for their excellent reporting and to keep up the good work.