Federal illegal immigration hearings to hit Georgia this week

The House Republicans' summer road show to build support for their version of federal immigration reform will make a couple of stops in Georgia this week.

Nine House committees have been taking testimony on how illegal immigration is affecting different parts of the country.

But critics accuse House GOP leaders of playing politics with the 21 field hearings, pursuing a strategy that will delay and possibly prevent a solution this year to an issue at the top of the national agenda.

U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood, R-Evans, will chair a hearing on Monday in Gainesville focusing on how illegal immigrants in the work force are affecting wages.

Then on Tuesday, Rep. Nathan Deal, R-Gainesville, will preside over a hearing in Dalton on the effects illegals are having on the health care system.

House Republican leaders decided to take the immigration issue to the nation after their counterparts in the Senate passed legislation in May that differs dramatically from a bill the House approved last December.

The House version takes a get-tough approach, declaring it a felony to be in this country illegally and calling for tougher border security measures.

The Senate bill, passed with the support of Republicans and Democrats, would provide the estimated 11 million illegals already here with a pathway to citizenship. The Senate version has the backing of President Bush.

"People need to understand what's in the House bill and what's in the Senate bill,'' said John Stone, Norwood's spokesman.

The hearings are giving House Republicans an opportunity to get out that message while, at the same time, generating news coverage of what the witnesses are telling committee members.

"What these hearings are showing is the devastating impact illegal immigration is having on the country,'' Stone said. "We're trying to make the point that this is real in state after state.''

But opponents of the House bill say they're suspicious of the timing of the hearings.

It's very unusual for congressional committees to hold hearings on legislation after it has passed the House and Senate.

Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, said it would be more productive for House and Senate leaders to appoint a conference committee to work out a compromise that both legislative chambers could pass and send to the president.

Gonzalez' organization is so incensed about the hearings that it will be sponsoring news conferences before both the Gainesville and Dalton hearings to talk about the contributions immigrants are making to the American economy.

"The House bill is a ridiculous bill that won't go anywhere because business interests won't have it,'' he said. "Everybody agrees the immigration system is broken. ... We need to fix it and not waste time with these dog-and-pony hearings.''

But Adrienne Elrod, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said House Republicans are more interested in scoring points with voters in an election year than achieving meaningful reform.

"Republicans are running a single-issue campaign on an issue that they can't point to one accomplishment on,'' she said.

Even if House Republicans were interested in coming to the table, however, supporters of their version of immigration reform aren't willing to go where the president and Senate Republicans want to take them.

"I think no bill is better than this terribly flawed expensive amnesty,'' said Phil Kent, the Atlanta-based national spokesman for Americans for Immigration Control, who will testify at Monday's hearing. "The Senate bill is so bad I'm glad the hearings are focusing on it.''

E-mail Dave Williams at dave.williams@gwinnettdailypost.com Have any thoughts about this column? Share them with us at letters@gwinnettdailypost.com. Letters should be no more than 200 words and are subject to approval by the publisher. Letters may be edited for style and space requirements. Please sign your name and provide an address and a daytime telephone number. Address letters for publication to: Letters to the Editor, Gwinnett Daily Post, P.O. Box 603, Lawrenceville, GA 30046-0603. The fax number is 770-339-8081.