Activists React to Planned Immigration Hearings

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This week, the House Subcommittee on International Terrorism is holding hearings on border security and enforcement. The House has already passed a bill on the issue that bears differences with one passed in the Senate. But some think the hearings are more about building consensus in the public than in Congress.


Congress is taking its fight over immigration on the road. Tomorrow, a House subcommittee will hold a hearing on border security in San Diego, not far from the U.S./Mexico border. Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, a Senate committee will hold its own hearing on the need for a guest worker program. The two hearings highlight the differences between the different legislative approaches to immigration and the wide range of options Americans have on the issue as well.

NPR's Ted Robbins spoke with activists on both sides about the hearings and the future of immigration.

TED ROBBINS reporting:

Al Garza witnesses the effects of illegal immigration every day. He's executive director of the self-appointed border guards, the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps. He patrols the desert north of the border in Cochise County, Arizona, documenting evidence that illegal crossers have been here.

Mr. AL GARZA (Minuteman Civil Defense Corps): Toothbrushes, toothpaste, clothing, sleeping gear.

ROBBINS: And reporting groups he sees to the Border Patrol. Garza is angry the House is holding a series of hearings. He doesn't want talk. He wants action.

Mr. GARZA: It's a political stunt as far as I'm concerned and they're not convincing me just yet. The time they will convince me is when the time comes and they decide okay, we mean business, we want border security, we are doing it today.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Mr. and Mrs. Alien walk gently through our land.

ROBBINS: That's a song from the documentary Cochise County USA: Cries from the Border.

Unidentified Man: (Singing) We're sick and tired of hauling your trash, paying your medical bills.

ROBBINS: The film is full of opinions on all sides of the issue. Although its been endorsed by the Minutemen and shown at their events. Minutemen like Al Garza say they agree with much of what's in the House bill, which calls for employer sanctions and tighter border security, including a 700-mile fence.

Immigrant rights activists, like Tucson attorney Isabelle Garcia, lean toward the Senate bill. It addresses border security but also includes a guest worker program and a path to citizenship for some illegal immigrants already in the country. She says securing the border without addressing immigration is futile.

Ms. ISABELLE GARCIA (Immigrant Rights Activist): If I were standing in front of them, I'd say why are you throwing good money after bad here? We have a policy that is doomed to failure, that has failed. We've spent $30 billion on this border and we have not slowed down the migration of other peoples coming into this country.

ROBBINS: And Isabelle Garcia agrees with minuteman Al Garza that the hearings are a stunt.

Ms. GARCIA: I think these hearings have been staged. They're a dog-and-pony show to shore up, I believe, support from the very restrictionist corners of our society.

ROBBINS: But at least one person we spoke with did like the idea of the hearings. Robin Hoover, co-founder of Humane Borders, the group that's put water stations in the desert to help prevent crossers from dying. He likes the hearings because they present access to cameras, pens and microphones.

Mr. ROBIN HOOVER (Humane Borders): I suspect that there will be groups that have opposing views and so the media will at least get to hear some other soundbites from folks that have more diverse views.

ROBBINS: Emails are flying from organizations on all sides of the border and immigration issue, asking people to mobilize at the hearings. So it's entirely possible that the show outside could upstage the show inside.

Ted Robbins, NPR News, Tucson.

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