by: Laurie Johnson, August 16, 2006 12:08:00 am
While two opposing groups demonstrated on the steps of the Harris County Civil Courthouse, two other opposing groups debated within the confines of a quiet courtroom. The topic was illegal immigration and specifically whether the influx of undocumented aliens leads to increased violence and crime within our borders. The hearing was led by Republican Congressman Michael McCaul, who chairs the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Investigations. In his opening statements, McCaul set out his position.
"It is my hope that this hearing and the testimony will open the eyes of America to the violence, crime, drugs and overall far-reaching impact of our unsecured borders."
Several Texas representatives participated in the hearing, including Republican Ted Poe and Democrats Gene Green and Sheila Jackson Lee. The Houston Congresswoman challenged McCaul's approach to the hearing.
"I know firsthand the complexities of the issue. That is why I am saddened by the simplistic and sometimes caustic rhetoric regarding immigrants and comprehensive immigration reform. I would hope that we would not engage, as the chairman has asked us, in traveling road-shows and mock hearings. And really digest and discuss how can we solve this problem, how can we secure our borders, how can we engage in a discussion of comprehensive immigration reform."
Outside the building, demonstrators carried signs: some in support of amnesty for illegal immigrants and some speaking out for tougher immigration laws and tightened border security. The groups demonstrated outside because they were prevented from commenting during the hearing. While open to public audience, the hearing was closed to comments from anyone outside the pre-approved witness list. Rachelle Johnston with The Metropolitan Organization says this hearing was an attempt to scapegoat the immigrant community.
"The so-called public hearing that just concluded does not measure up to the democratic tradition of our country."
On the other side of the courthouse steps, Curtis Collier with a community organization called U.S. Border Watch was also protesting the lack of public input at the congressional hearing.
"They do need to hear from the citizens, both sides, but these hearings have been held all over the country and they're not opened up to the public at any of them for the most part, it's only invited guests. So I mean both sides do have a complaint about that so it's probably one thing we can meet in the middle on."
Witnesses in the hearing included local and state officials, law enforcement officers and victims of crimes committed by illegal immigrants. The Houston hearing was one of 21 hearings held across the nation. Laurie Johnson Houston Public Radio News.