Border Battle Waged in Hearings
By Michael Muskal, Times Staff Writer
1:28 PM PDT, July 5, 2006
With the celebratory July 4th pyrotechnics just leftover ash, Congress this
morning created some fireworks of its own by holding competing hearings in
Philadelphia and San Diego on the politically contentious issue of
The hearings were separated by more than geography. They were designed to
illustrate the different approaches by each branch of Congress and to build
partisan support as the midterm elections edge closer.
In San Diego, a House panel focused on protecting the porous border with
Mexico while the Senate Judiciary Committee meeting in Philadelphia dealt
with a comprehensive approach that would include eventual citizenship for
undocumented workers in addition to increased security efforts.
The issue has split the GOP with conservative House Republicans favoring a
tougher approach than many Senate Republicans, who joined their Democratic
colleagues in passing a bipartisan bill. The Bush administration insisted
that it favored the Senate approach, but was willing to negotiate.
"What we really need is a comprehensive approach to deal with this issue,"
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), one of the floor leaders who helped pass
the compromise, said in Philadelphia. "We can't solve the issue of our
broken immigration laws by simply building more fences at the border and
demonizing the 12 million undocumented immigrants."
But Republicans in San Diego were adamant that enforcement was the key
issue. They oppose the Senate approach, stressing more security at the
border while rebuffing a path to citizenship that conservatives have derided
as an amnesty.
"We ought to protect are own border," said Rep. Ted Poe (R- Texas), a member
of the House International Relations subcommittee, which heard from Border
Patrol officials about security problems at the U.S. border with Mexico.
Also testifying were local sheriffs.
About 200 people filled the hearing room, according to the Associated Press.
And overflow crowd stood outside under a tent and watched on a TV. Some wore
T-shirts with the slogan, "Stop Illegal Immigration Now. Ask Me How."
"When they have anything like this, we have to come to show our anger at
what is going on," said demonstrator Jennifer Reynolds, 38.
Along a nearby road, about 75 activists rallied in support of immigration. A
mariachi band played beside a row of wooden crosses that activists planted
in memory of people who died attempting to cross the border, the wire
Inside the Imperial Beach Border Patrol station, Democrats minimized the
importance of the hearing, one of a series called by House GOP leaders -- a
move Democrats have criticized as a tactic to prevent dealing with the
thorny issue before the November elections.
"We have two bills sitting idle, waiting to be negotiated," Rep. Xavier
Becerra (D-Los Angeles) said today in San Diego. If we "look into a crystal
ball and see what will happen, we would see nothing."
The political opportunities of a hardline approach were best illustrated
when Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-San Diego) spoke. Bilbray recent won a special
election after attacking the comprehensive approach, even snubbing Bush and
Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican, presidential aspirant and a leader
of the bipartisan Senate approach.
"We've lost control along the border [and that is] a major crisis for the
nation," Bilbray said. "The United States has not been serious enough about
our national sovereignty and defending our neighborhood."
This hearing "is more talk, not action," said Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose).
"We talk a lot. It's a shame."
Some Republicans are pushing an enforcement first compromise that would
start with beefing up the border and could include some triggers that would
allow undocumented workers in the United States to eventually become
citizens once the security goals were met.
Some versions of that approach would have undocumented workers return to
their home countries and then be allowed back in the United States. The
Senate approach calls for most of the estimated 12 million undocumented
workers to stay in the United States, but they would have to pay a fine and
"On one point we can agree," said Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-Arizona), a backer
of an enforcement-first policy. "We need a lot less talk and more action."
President Bush today went to a doughnut shop in Alexandria, Va., owned by
Iranian brothers to stress his support for the comprehensive approach.
"One of the problems we have, because our economy is strong, is that
small-business owners have trouble finding workers," Bush said. "There needs
to be a worker program that says you can come here on a temporary basis and
work here legally in jobs Americans aren't doing."
The White House has indicated that it is prepared to bargain on an
immigration bill, one of Bush's domestic policy hopes. His other major
domestic initiative, Social Security reform, has collapsed.
Bush, a former Texas governor, has been outspoken in backing a guest-worker
program and a track for citizenship for the undocumented workers, but has
also tried to appease his right flank by opposing amnesty.
White House spokesman Tony Snow told reporters today that the president's
position wasn't inconsistent with the idea of putting enforcement before
"What this White House has been clear about is you don't do borders only,"
The economic necessity for undocumented workers was also a theme in
Philadelphia, where New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg endorsed the Senate
approach and bluntly warned that the economy would severely be hurt without
the estimated 500,000 immigrants illegally in his city.
"Although they broke the law by illegally crossing our borders ... our
city's economy would be a shell of itself had they not, and it would
collapse if they were deported," Bloomberg said. "The same holds true for
The Senate and the House will hold hearings through the summer.