Saturday, August 26, 2006

Phony immigration hearings flop

As the Sensenbrenner Judiciary Committee circus heads for its last "hearing" on immigration reform on Sept. 1 in Dubuque (Iowa is thinking of walling off the border), it appears the road show has fizzled.

It has probably accomplished its purpose of stalling Congressional action and getting some media coverage on the issue in places with contested elections. But public interest in the hearings -- and perhaps in the issue -- has waned, and the hearings did not excite the anti-immigrant crowd the way they were intended to.

Americans have short attention spans. Even House members have quit showing up.

AP reports:
People don't pay attention to these things, except the C-SPAN junkies," said Gary Jacobson, an expert in congressional politics at the University of California, San Diego. "It's not surprising that it's fizzled."

Democrats and immigrant groups have questioned the need for the hearings because such meetings are typically held before legislation is passed _ not after. Critics call the hearings an election-year tactic to delay negotiations on the competing immigration bills passed by the House and Senate.

Many House members have shown waning interest in the meetings, preferring to campaign during the August recess or go on vacation, Jacobson said.

A hearing in San Diego drew just two congressmen, even though it is a border city often described as a crucible of immigration politics. Another gathering in Dalton, Ga., attracted just three representatives.

A sparsely attended hearing in El Paso, Texas, was held in the dark and rebroadcast on C-SPAN with a note reading: "This hearing was held in a theater with lighting problems."

Another gathering scheduled for Friday in upstate New York was canceled with one week's notice. A spokesman for the Judiciary Committee blamed logistical difficulties getting members to the meeting from a panel in Concord, N.H., that took place the previous day.
Sensenbrenner, who's responsible for this massive waste of taxpayer dollars, naturally is pleased as punch with the hearings:
Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., said the meetings allowed lawmakers "to hear testimony from local people, as well as to talk with them informally."
The fact is, the only people who testified were a handful who had been invited. There was no chance for local people to testify. Maybe Sensenbrenner heard from them informally when they were driving his cab or cleaning his hotel room. AP notes:
But even some who agree with the House GOP's hardline stance against illegal immigration gave mixed reviews to the hearings, which generally involved Homeland Security officials, academics and activists discussing the issue.

Ron De Jong, spokesman for the activist group, said he would have liked more accessible venues and an opportunity for audience members to speak.

"I would have provided a forum for citizens to speak," De Jong said. "Give them 90 seconds."
But that might have spoiled the show. The last thing these hearings were intended to do was to hear from the public.

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