WASHINGTON – After more than 50 congressional hearings on immigration, lawmakers complained Tuesday about the prospect of even more hearings in a House-Senate standoff over how to deter illegal immigrants.
House Republicans have called for six more hearings this month — and possibly more in August. The hearings began after the Senate passed a bipartisan immigration bill offering a chance at citizenship to millions of illegal immigrants.
The latest round of hearings has been criticized as a political maneuver to delay immigration legislation and to help Republican candidates in an election year. After more than 50 immigration hearings since the 109th Congress began in February 2005, even a Republican joined the criticism Tuesday.
"They ought to be called faux hearings," said Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. Flake sponsored an unsuccessful House bill that, like the Senate's measure, would offer some amnesty.
Republican leaders made no attempt to hide their disdain for the Senate bill.
A hearing Tuesday before the House Judiciary immigration subcommittee was entitled: "Should We Embrace the Senate's Grant of Amnesty to Millions of Illegal Aliens and Repeat the Mistakes of the Immigration and Control Act of 1986?"
Three witnesses testifying on behalf of Republicans criticized the Senate bill and the lone witness for Democrats, Rep. Silvestre Reyes of Texas, the only member of Congress to serve in the Border Patrol, supported it.
The House bill, passed in December 2005, does not include a path to citizenship, or what critics refer to as amnesty, and makes all illegal immigrants in the country subject to felony prosecution.
Usually, the two chambers would go to conference committee to work out differences in the two bills. But House Republicans said they needed the hearings to learn more about the Senate bill and take the pulse of the American people on the issue. The majority of the hearings held since have been in Washington.
Rep. John Hostettler, R-Ind., said the current hearings don't duplicate the 23 his subcommittee already held. "We weren't addressing specific legislative provisions of a Senate bill," he said.
But more of the hearing was spent trading partisan shots, than dissecting the Senate bill.
"The GOP has become the Gab Only Party," Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif. said. "This is just a bunch of gas."
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, said Republicans were holding "mock hearings," while Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., alleged the hearings amounted to a "con job on the American people."
Hostettler criticized Reyes, who said he was missing an Intelligence Committee meeting to attend the hearing that he considered political.
Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, refused to yield the floor to Jackson Lee, the ranking Democrat, and challenged Lofgren's assessment on who was spewing the most gas.