Thursday, July 27, 2006

21 new hearings in interesting locations...

Yesterday House Republicans announced 21 new field hearings on immigration.

If you compare the list of locations to the list of states where there will be key elections on this Election Map 2006 (note the key symbols for both the Senate and the House)...

VOILA! They are the same states! Can it get any clearer than this? Republicans are having hearings in states where their seats are in jeopardy.

Why? Today National Public Radio announced the findings of a survey that suggests that Republicans might have a difficult time hanging on to their majority in Congress. These so-called public hearings on immigration reform are evidence that the party is nervous and needs to use the issue as a lightning rod issue to energize voters to their side.

House Majority Leader John Boehner of Ohio told the Associated Press that "We believe that these hearings will help strengthen our hand as we negotiate with our counterparts in the Senate and hopefully get a bill to the president some time this year."

("This year": meaning sometime before the November elections. Or at least look like they are trying to do something before then...)

Senator Ted Kennedy told AP that the hearings are 'gimmicks' to stall legislation for electoral gains. "These are campaign events driven by the right wing of the Republican Party, not true hearings," Kennedy said. "They think their 'enforcement only' plan will help them at the ballot box in November, but security experts agree that it can't fix our broken system."

ACTION STEP: Call or e-mail Majority Leader John Boehner (202.225.6205 or e-mail). Ask him to get his party to stop stalling and get back to the work of creating true immigration reform. Ask him and his party to stop making it a partisan tactic. Tell him to use the hearings to truly LISTEN to all Americans including NEW Americans, namely immigrant themselves. Tell him you do not support 'enforcement-first', 'enforcement-only' or more enforcement for that matter as the solution to our broken immigration system.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Mike Pence the Salesman

Representative Mike Pence is still out looking for buyers for his solution to the immigration quandary. He now has Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison convinced. The two of them staged an 'infomercial'-type press conference this week that Reuters News Service covered.

Why call him a salesman? Well, a cornerstone of Pence's plan is privatizing most of the immigration services at " Ellis Island-type centers in many countries to process applications for a new kind of work visa, known as the Good Neighbor SAFE
(Secure Authorized Foreign Employee) visas". Somehow applicants would need to prove that a U.S. job awaits them.

According to Reuters, the visa would be offered only to immigrants from countries that are part of trade pacts covering Canada, Mexico and most of Central America. Amazingly this is the first hint that anyone in Congress is thinking about the effects of globalization.

Essentially Pence's plan is an enforcement-first strategy that would require the Department of Homeland Security to certify that the borders are secure before reform would take place.

ACTION STEP: Contact Mike Pence and tell him that you don't agree with his plan. Tell him that you don't believe enforcement-first is feasible, just or American. Tell him his privatization plan will not work either.

"War talk" on immigration reform

Military metaphors are not something you would normally find on the website of an organization founded by Quakers, but leave it to Washington to bring them into the mix. Last week, the reported that Republican representatives in the House have organized a communications "war room" to promote their enforcement-first agenda. Immigration reform is becoming a skirmish in anticipation of the big battle at the ballot box in November.

More like a coordinated plan rather than an actual room, the GOP "war room" coordinates the party's message in local media markets during the next round of hearings up until the November elections. They want to "saturate those markets with favorable comments about the [enforcement-only] House bill". Staffers have separated the country into 12 regions and recruited a dozen press aides from various personal offices to review clips from media markets in each region. They have a conference call every morning at 8:30 and meet in person at least once a week to discuss strategy. The "war room" is coordinating opinion/editorial pieces in local media and they are sending out e-mailing regular "Border Bulletins" about the field hearings schedule, the problems with the Senate bill or the failure of the Democrats to articulate a plan. They also launched a website last week.

What are Democrats doing? They have been pointing out the Republican-lead Congress and the President's failures on the border and criticize their Republican counterparts for their own failure to move a bill to the president's desk. Staffers organized by Pelosi's office meet regularly to discuss the immigration issue, and they will continue to distribute information packets to members who participate in the field hearings.

As immigrant rights advocates feared, the recent (sham) hearings held around the country are being touted as proof that Americans are for enforcement-only. The reports that during a recent conference meeting of House Republicans, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (Texas) told members about the positive responses he heard during a series of town-hall meetings he held to explain his enforcement-first approach. "Town-hall meetings"? That would imply that the public could ask questions or offer testimony; neither of which has yet happened in one of the hearings.

One staffer Kevin Madden was quoted as saying "This is us going before the American public as judge and jury because all the facts are on our side". Where exactly is this forum going to be? The hearings have not provided such a space. He must mean the November elections.

Republicans are planning to use immigration enforcement-only proposals to rally voters to their side and help them maintain the majority in Congress after the up-coming elections. "Members are really on the offensive about this," said a spokeswoman for the House Republican Conference. But writer Patrick O'Connor wonders if it will create more expectations that Congress will actually pass some sort of reform bill BEFORE the elections.

What will all this mean for real/true/actual comprehensive immigration reform? Advocates hope that some positive change will happen. To use a phrase Secretary of State Condaleeza Rice has been using repeatedly in regards to Lebanon, "We do not want to return to the status quo ante." But with the proposed 'arsenal' of enforcement-only measures, immigrant rights advocates are still wondering if the "status quo ante" is preferable.


Call Kevin Madden, with House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) 202.225.6205 and tell him that immigration reform should not be a partisan issue. Everyone knows that the Senate bill was co-authored by Republicans and it should not be portrayed otherwise. Tell him that enforcement-first or enforcement-only strategies are not the answer and that we need TRUE immigration reform that addresses global economic root causes and protects immigrant families. Tell him that to date there has been no forum for Americans and immigrants to act as "judge and jury"” on immigration reform and ask that future field hearings be more open and democratic.

Call Jennifer Crider, spokeswoman for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) 202.225.4965 and tell her that you do not agree with the Democratic strategy of highlighting the RepublicanÂ’s failures at the border. Tell her that you do not support more immigration enforcement that destroys families and militarizes our border. Tell her that 10 years of enforcement have not been the solution and what we really need is truly comprehensive immigration reform that addresses economic root causes and protects immigrant families.

Call Rep. Jeb Hensarling (Texas) 202.225.3484 and tell his staffer that the Congressional hearings have NOT been town-hall style. Participants have not been able to ask questions or contribute to the debate. Ask the Representative to make the August field hearings more democratic and open so that he can truly hear from Americans and immigrants.

Call the following Republican staffers and tell them that you are disturbed that the party is using immigration reform as a wedge issue rather than truly seeking a solution. Tell them that enforcement-first or enforcement-only strategies are not the answer and that we need TRUE immigration reform that addresses global economic root causes and protects immigrant families.

Laura Blackann, with Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.) 202.225.2511
Courtney English, with Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.) 202.225.6216
Sarah Jackson, with Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) 202.225.4806
Charlie Keller, with Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite (R-Fla.) 202.225.1008
Ryan Loskarn, with Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) 202.225.2811
Brad Mascho, with Rep. Paul Gillmor (R-Ohio) 202.225.6405
Tory Mazzola, with Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) 202.225.2431
L.D. Platt, with Rep. Tom Reynolds (R-N.Y.) 202.225.5265
Becky Ruby, with Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) 202.225.2931
Michelle Stein, with Rep. Mike Burgess (R-Texas) 202.225.7772

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

"Faux Hearings" arrive in Washington

This week, House Republicans are holding a series of hearings in Washington about immigration reform or, as they are now simply calling it, "border security."

The House Republicans created a new name for the Senate bill which until a few weeks ago was known as the "Hagel-Martinez Compromise Bill" (both are Republican senators, by the way, and two of the orginal authors Specter and McCain are also Republicans). Now anti-legalization Republicans think they can rile up the public by calling it the "Reid-Kennedy Amnesty Bill" (after the Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid and Senator Ted Kennedy). They repeat it several times in their flyer for the hearings (what was that saying about if you repeat a lie often enough, people start to believe it?).

Tuesday's hearing, titled "Do the Reid-Kennedy bill's amnesty provisions repeat the mistakes of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986?" didn't turn out quite the way the Republicans had hoped. The New York Times reported that the "results were decidedly mixed."

One of the four panelists, Phyllis Schlafly (Phyllis Schlafly, an expert on immigration?!) asserted that President Bush had betrayed Americans by supporting the Senate bill's plan for legalization. "The American people are not willing to be cheated again," she said referencing the 1986 amnesty bill.

The NY Times also reported that another witness, dismissed the hearing as "a waste of time," and one Republican on the subcommittee, Representative Jeff Flake of Arizona, called the session a "faux hearing" at a time when, he said, the two houses should be in negotiations to reconcile their differing approaches.

Three panelists (including Ms. Schlafly, Steven A. Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies, and
James R. Edwards Jr. of the Hudson Institute) said that they were not for mass deportations. "Nobody is calling for deporting large numbers of people," Ms. Schlafly said under questioning by Representative Maxine Waters, Democrat of California. (Oops, Congresswoman Waters should have said "SELF-deport", which is what anti-immigrant advocates are hoping for...since after all it's much cheaper).

ACTION STEP: On the GOP (Republican) Border Security Website, the party is asking for the public's to "Share your stories or concerns about border security". Send them an e-mail at and tell them that you agree with Jeff Flake that these are "faux hearings" and that they need to get back to the work of true comprehensive immigration reform. Ask them to drop the anti-immigrant rhetoric and tell them to recognize the contributions of all immigrants, documented and not. You could also call the party at 202-225-5107 or also e-mail them at

"The Trigger" and "The Blue Slip"

The Congressional Quarterly recently reported that talk of a "trigger" has been floating around the halls of Capitol Hill.

Conservative Senate Republicans have been discussing how a possible compromise on immigration reform could be the implementation of border-security provisions first which could eventually "trigger" broader immigration changes. The "trigger" is being suggested as a possible compromise between the Senate and House bills.

Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., told CQ that "Once they accept that we'll secure the borders first, I think there are a lot of things [in the Senate bill] that can be agreed to." Isakson proposed an amendment to this effect but it was defeated during floor debate in May. Now he and other senators said they thought the Senate would approve the measure if it was brought to the floor again, particularly if it helps create middle ground between the two bills.

House Representative Hastert told CQ that "If we do that and secure our borders, we're willing to look at other perspectives. I think there probably has to be some metric there, so probably what Sen. McCain is talking about has some substance."

Another term being discussed in relation to immigration is the "blue slip". In other words, only the House is allowed to pass revenue provisions and the Senate bill contains such measures. Apparently Senate leaders have still not figured out a way around the procedural problem that has stymied the bill. (Or perhaps this is just an excuse...)

ACTION STEP: Call your Senator (202.224.3121) and tell her/him that you do not agree with the 'trigger' plan. Tell them that you do not think more enforcement and detention is the necessary first step for immigration reform.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Reform news on the D.L.

Since Mexican President Vicente Fox will soon be without a job, he's started moonlighting as an investigative journalist (or possibly a gossip columnist).

On Monday Fox relayed to Mexican radio a conversation he had with U.S. President George Bush in St. Petersburg, Russia during the Group of Eight ("G8") summit. Bush told him that the U.S. Congress is unlikely to pass immigration reforms before November congressional elections (Bush seems to have been saying a lot off the cuff while in Russia, as in his accidently taped conversation with U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair.)

Reuters New Service reported that Bush told Fox that time was running out. "He pointed out that this period is very short, there are only two or three weeks before Congress members go on the election campaign," Fox told journalists on a flight from St. Petersburg, Russia, to Madrid. "So the chance of the immigration issue reaching approval in the House of Representatives and reaching joint approval isn't very high," Fox said.

Reuters also reported that U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist last week gave less than even odds that Congress would pass the immigration law overhaul before the congressional elections. Frist said election year politics and lack of movement by the House of Representatives toward a comprehensive approach sought by the Senate and Bush complicated negotiations for final legislation.

While this all might not be new news to those of us following developments around immigration reform, it is telling that we, the public, must hear this information from second or third sources (such as presidents of other countries) rather directly from our leaders. It also reveals that Congress and President have little to gain in resolving the issue before the November elections. The heightened national attention to the issue works well to bring voters out for ballot initiatives in several states.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Looking tough in the Senate

On Thursday, the Senate approved an appropriations bill that will add 1,000 new border patrol agents and 1,700 new immigration detention center beds. The $32.8-billion funding bill was for the Department of Homeland Security's operations in the new fiscal year. The bill passed 100 senators to 0.

Still 'on hold' is the comprehensive immigration reform bill passed nearly two months ago. Neither the House or the Senate have moved forward on setting up a conference committee to reconcile it with the House bill (HR 4437). Instead both houses of Congress have been holding public hearings around the country.

On Thursday, an amendment to the appropriations bill that was authored by Senator Kyl and passed by the Senate will add 1,700 bed spaces, bringing the total number for 2007 to the 27,500 requested by Homeland Security (with the Senate and House bills the ultimate total could be more than 100,000 beds).

This Senate bill will have to be reconciled with a similar bill passed by the House passed in June. It will be interesting to see how quickly the conference committee for this bill will be put together. Congressmen and women desperately need to look like they are doing SOMETHING on immigration to show constituents that they are worthy of re-election in November.

Also on Thursday, the Senate passed a border tunnel measure sponsored by California Senators Dianne Feinstein and Sen. Barbara Boxer. As the Los Angeles Times reports, it imposes a 20-year prison sentence for building or financing a cross-border underground passageway and would jail for 10 years landowners who displayed a reckless disregard for the construction or use of a tunnel on their land.

So even if comprehensive immigration reform bills die in this Congress, Senators and Representatives are still taking steps to beef up enforcement. Yet truly comprehensive reform that looks at the entire immigration system seems to have died a long time ago (or was never born).

In Senator Specter's backyard

Impatient with stalled immigration reform in Washington, Mayor Lou Barletta of Hazelton, Pennsylvania signed a city ordinance on Friday that punishes people who do business with illegal immigrants or provide them with jobs or housing.

The regulation says that the townspeople are suffering from "the debilitating effects on their economic and social well being imposed by the influx of illegal aliens." Barletta, a Republican, has said he proposed the law to address crime, school crowding, hospital costs and demands for city services that he attributes to an influx of illegal immigrants in the northeastern Pennsylvania town of about 31,000 residents.

The Hazleton City Council is set to approve a companion measure requiring all tenants to register with the city and prove their legal residency. The ordinance will fine landlords $1,000 per day for each illegal immigrant living on their properties. Taken together, these measures are the toughest in the country.

Joseph Turner, who proposed a similar bill in San Bernandino, CA told the New York Times that ''It's looking like we're going to see a tidal wave of local governments stepping up to the plate on handling illegal immigration on the local level. And I believe it's going to put enormous pressure on the federal government to finally act.'' At least 57 immigration-related bills have been passed by U.S. state legislatures in 2006, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, plan to sue Hazleton in federal court. Lee Llambelis, legal director of the Fund, told the NY Times that the law pits neighbor against neighbor and only serves to heighten tension with Hispanics in the town,'' she said. The Times also reports that about 30 percent of Hazleton's population is Latino, up from around 5 percent in 2000.

ACTION STEP: Mayor Lou Barletta claims that he has received 8,000 e-mails from all over the country in support of his new ordinance. Please send an e-mail to or and let him know that you disagree. You can also call him at 570.459.4910, 570.459.4900 or 570.459.4947 or write to him at the Mayor's Office, City Hall, Hazleton, PA 18201. [Note: This contact information has been checked for accuracy but the mayor's office may be swamped with input from the public.]

Tell the mayor that you disagree with his actions and that it sets a bad precedent and is bad publicity for his city. Tell him that immigrants contribute to his town's economy and many will be registered voters soon...

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Round II of immigration hearings

The information below was released on today's CNN's morning tip sheet: The Morning Grind. Further information has not been posted on Congressional websites. As soon as AFSC gets the information, we'll be sure to post it here. The titles already tell us a lot. Please note: There is no such thing as a "Reid-Kennedy Amnesty Bill". The approved Senate bill was a bi-partisan effort that was co-authored by Republican senators Specter, McCain, Martinez and Hagel as well as Democrats Reid and Kennedy, among others.

"A well placed Republican House source provided the Grind with an early look at what the next round of House hearings will address and when they will happen:

July 18th. Do the Reid-Kennedy bill's amnesty provisions repeat the mistakes of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986? House Judiciary Committee

July 19th. What is the impact of the Reid-Kennedy bill on American workers and their workplaces? House Education and the Workforce Committee

July 20th. How does the Reid-Kennedy bill compare to the House Border Security bill when it comes to enhancing border infrastructure? House Homeland Security Committee

July 26th. What is the role of English in American education and society, and does the Reid-Kennedy bill undermine, rather than encourage, this role? House Education and the Workforce Committee

July 27th. Will the Reid-Kennedy bill's amnesty provisions overwhelm the already overburdened U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services? Will 10-20 million new applicants for citizenship make it easier for criminals and terrorists to evade background checks? House Judiciary Committee

July 27th. Does the Reid-Kennedy bill make it more difficult for law enforcement to expedite the removal of illegal aliens from the United States? House Homeland Security Committee

July 27th. To what degree is illegal immigration an issue for countries in the Western Hemisphere, and does the Reid-Kennedy bill undercut American diplomatic efforts aimed at curbing illegal immigration? House International Relations Committee"

Source: Detention Watch Network

Senator Cornyn tries to sneak one by

Today Senator Cornyn tried to introduce an amendment to an appropriations bill for the Department of Homeland Security that would have placed arbitrary and absurdly short deadlines on courts deciding what relief to provide in immigration cases.

According to Josh Bernstein at the National Immigration Law Center, the "if the amendment is enacted, there would - as a practical matter - often be no remedy when the government violates constitutionally guaranteed rights or the requirements of immigration laws, not because any given case lacks merit, but because the courts will not have time to make a considered determination. Plaintiffs are rarely the cause of lengthy court proceedings, but under the amendment they would bear the entire burden of a court's inability to meet the new deadlines. The amendment would also work to the detriment of other pressing civil cases, some of which would have to be pushed back to accommodate immigration cases with arbitrary new deadlines and unnecessary extra court dates."

While the paragraph above might sound overly technicalcal, suffice it to say that it would not be good for immigrants and their cases in immigration court. What this maneuvering reveals is that some Congressional representatives are determined to get their anti-immigrant measures passed, even without fanfare but when they think no one is looking. This strategy of attaching anti-immigrant amendments to must-pass bills could be glimpse of the future if immigration reform fails in Congress this year. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has openly said that he will use this strategy if Congress fails to pass anything.

For now, it looks like this amendment will fail since Cornyn does not have the necessary votes to defend it from a "point of order" or exclusion from the appropriations bill. For more information on this amendment, contact Josh Bernstein at the National Immigration Law Center,, (202) 216-0261

ACTION STEP: If your Senator is on the Appropriations Committee, you can call him or her (202.224.3121) and tell them to vote against Cornyn's amendment.

Colorado ups the ante

"They're all trying to out-Tancredo Tancredo."

This is what U.S. House Representative Tom Tancredo said of politicians in his home state of Colorado who aren't waiting on Congress to alter immigration to the state. Tancredo is one of the most rabidly anti-immigrant Congressman in Washington, so if he thinks someone is trying to out-do him, then immigrants better watch out...

The Colorado State Assembly finished a special five day session by passing some extraordinary measures that go further than any other state in the Union. Some are merely P.R., like the one that bars undocumented immigrants from accessing non-emergency services: Federal law already bars them from doing so and studies show that the undocumented rarely try to access them. It will be interesting to see if some U.S. citizens will be unable to meet the new stringent identification requirements. Immigrants may also take this as a sign to leave or avoid the state, something that will effect the state's economy. Other measures include requirements for employers to certify that they have documented employees and fines for those who don't comply.

Republicans in the State Assembly would have liked for most of the measures to go on the November ballot (what better way to get supporters to the polls?) but Democrats cut them off at the pass and forced a vote. Colorado voters will be able to vote on whether or not the state attorney general can sue the federal government for not enforcing immigration law in the state.

House Speaker Andrew Romanoff told the Rocky Mountain Times "My hope is if Congress is listening that they take a message from what we are doing." Governor Owens, who has 30 days to sign the bills into law, said that he hopes other states will follow Colorado's lead and that Maryland legislators had called within a matter of hours for copies of the bills.

To see a list of the proposed bills, including a HR 4437 clone that would have turned undocumented people into felons, see this List of State Bills.

ACTION STEPS: Call Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff (303-866-2346) and tell him how disappointed you are in his leadership and to leave immigration matters to the federal government.
Call Governor Owens (303-866-2471) and tell him NOT to sign the legislation that was passed by the Legislature. Tell him that signing these harsh laws will send a negative message about Colorado and that they will have a devastating effect on the state's economy.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Roadshow Continues

Over the weekend and on Monday, there were some choice quotes about the immigration reform debate:

In Laredo, Texas, protester Sally Sully discussed her anti-immigrant signs ("Shut down the border now") with National Public Radio and why she didn't go inside the Congressional hearing that was held in her town: "I worked too hard on these to dump 'em in a trash can and go in there. They won't let me talk in there, you know. Y'all will listen out here."

In Los Angeles at the National Council of La Raza conference, former President Bill Clinton discussed the Republican strategy: "It is a way of creating a divided community and distracting people from the real challenges facing the country, whether it is in Iraq and Afghanistan, or homeland security, or how to build a clean energy future, or how to solve the healthcare crisis, or how to create new jobs for America."

In Chicago President Bush said, "People in this country expect us to secure the border, and we will... Look, the House has passed a bill, the Senate has passed a bill, and we're working in Washington to reconcile the differences. It's hard work. It's not an easy assignment. But I'm confident if we all keep working on it, we can get a comprehensive bill done which will be good for the country, and send the message that we're a land of different folks from different religions and different backgrounds, all united under the great -- the great American ideal."

In Miami at a Senate-sponsored hearing, General Peter Pace choked by tears when talking about his Italian immigrant father: "There is no other country on the planet that affords that kind of opportunity to those who come here." The Washington Post reported that then audience burst into applause.

All of these quotes reveal something critical about the process that has unfolded in the current debate on immigration. Congressional "leaders" have not consulted with their constituents in any meaningful to truly gage the public's views on the issue. To date, those who yell loud enough or make repeated phone calls to Congressional offices are winning out (In Miami, pro-immigrant folks could only applaud). Where is the public consultative process? For all the talk about "illegals", has Congress actually talked to immigrants and listened to their experiences? Thus far, the process has shown as remarkably un-democratic (note above that Sally Sully recognized this in Texas). Time and again Congressional representatives have demonstrated that they are less concerned about the mechanics of true immigration reform than they are about how it will play out in the media and in up-coming elections.

ACTION STEP: Call your Congressional representatives (202.224.3121) and tell them 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 recent hearings.

Another plan?

Indiana Congressman Mike Pence has been promoting his plan as an alternative to the House and Senate bills. He was on National Public Radio over the weekend hawking his proposal.

Basically Pence wants to secure the border first and have the Secretary of Homeland Security certify it's security in the first two years. Then, and only then, the government would implement a guest worker program that would require all undocumented individuals to leave the country and be processed within a week in offshore "Ellis Island Centers" in their home countries. On NPR, Pence was asked if it was reasonable to expect 12 million people to self-deport and return within a week. He thought it would be with the help of private companies (a-ha!). While his plan would allow guest workers to apply for citizenship after six years, he questioned whether or not US-born children of guest workers would get automatic citizenship.

Such a "plan" is so outrageous and ill-conceived it may not be worth the space here in this blog but we thought you should know about it. It obvious that Congressman Pence knows very little about backlogs and current functioning at U.S. Immigration services (one week processing?). He seems to think that privatization is the key here. He also seems to have little concept about the limited financial means of undocumented people who would be expected to jet home for a week. It's also unhelpful to question birthright citizenship unless you're planning to set up a sub-class of people living in the United States.

ACTION STEP: You're welcome to call Congressman Pence and tell him what you think of his plan. Be sure to ask him what he plans to do about the root causes of migration and US-brokered international agreements that help create these flows. His office number is 202.225.3021

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Theater in San Diego (or Where are the leaders?)

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.