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Immigration Issue Continues to Bedevil Congress

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Immigration Issue Continues to Bedevil Congress

Politics

Immigration Issue Continues to Bedevil Congress

Immigration Issue Continues to Bedevil Congress

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Immigration consistently tops the list of issues voters care about. Legislators have spent months haggling over an immigration reform bill, with no end in sight. At a policy forum Tuesday, Republican leaders in Congress took up the issue again. But Democrats say it's just politics as usual.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

When it comes to immigration law, the news is what has not changed.

Congress is still far from agreeing on any substantial changes to immigration policy. But over the summer recess Republicans held immigration hearings across the country, and yesterday GOP leaders gathered to share what they learned.

NPR's Luke Burbank reports.

LUKE BURBANK: Yesterday's meeting was sort of the House Republicans' equivalent of the Knights of the Round Table. The chairs of various committees and subcommittees were there reporting back to the party's big brass about what they'd learned over the summer.

Of course there was no Lancelot or Galahad in attendance, but there was a Peter Hoekstra, a Duncan Hunter, and a Nathan Deal discussing the recent field hearings.

Representative NATHAN DEAL (Republican, Georgia): The magnitude of the feeling of my constituents is very difficult to describe. It is a very touchy subject, one that people think we are long overdue in trying to resolve.

BURBANK: That was Deal, who chairs the subcommittee of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee. Hoekstra is in charge of House Intelligence, while Hunter leads the Armed Services Committee. They were just three of the Republicans who attended many of the summer's 22 field hearings which were spread out across the country.

The hearings covered a variety of issues, from the economic impact of illegal immigration to the effect it has on national parks. The big one, though, or at least the one Republicans really wanted to talk about yesterday, was border security. Peter Hoekstra.

Representative PETER HOEKSTRA (Republican, Michigan): There's a very, very simple reason why we need border security today: We are a nation at war. We face a very dangerous and deadly enemy that is intent on attacking the United States again.

BURBANK: House Speaker Dennis Hastert called the state of America's borders a security crisis, while other Republicans used the forum to call for more border patrol agents, additional fencing along the border, and stricter enforcement of immigration laws.

Yesterday's event was a policy forum, not a hearing, which meant Democrats weren't even invited to take part. But that suited Democrat Zoe Lofgren of California just fine.

Representative ZOE LOFGREN (Democrat, California): It's just politics. I mean they've been in charge for 12 years and now they're trying to pretend that in the last 12 days they've come up with some new ideas.

BURBANK: Lofgren says yesterday's forum was just a lot of wheel spinning by Republicans who have yet to come up with a realistic proposal for immigration reform.

She was also no fan of this summer's field hearings, which she says were staged media events meant to push the Republican agenda. Lofgren attended one of the hearings in San Diego and was not impressed.

Rep. LOFGREN: It was clear that it was meant to be a big to-do. And they had a big screen TV outside with, you know, all kinds chairs so that it would be, you know, a cast of thousands. But when I left there like two people sitting outside in front of the big screen TV.

BURBANK: Both the House and Senate have actually approved immigration bills. The problem is that those bills look very different from each other. On the Senate side, the bill, which has the president's approval, would create a guest worker program and a path to citizenship. The House version would seek to seal the border and, at least temporarily, deport the roughly 12 million illegal aliens living in the U.S.

That means things are at an impasse until both sides can agree on a compromise, and Republican leaders have said there's no way that's happening until after the November election, if it happens at all.

Luke Burbank, NPR News, the Capitol.

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