LAREDO, Texas -- A Republican-led House panel met at the Mexican border yesterday in an unusual field hearing that the chairman said he hopes will push the Senate to focus on enforcing immigration law.
``It's elementary that to defend ourselves against our determined and resourceful enemies, our border must be secure," said Representative Ed Royce, a California Republican and chairman of the International Relations Subcommittee on International Terrorism and Nonproliferation.
House GOP leaders called the series of hearings last month after the Senate approved a guest worker program and a possible path to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants. Royce said he favors the path of the House, which approved a bill focusing on enforcement, with no provision for illegal immigrants or future guest workers.
Royce said he wanted the hearings moved out of Washington so the immigration debate would not be kept secret from the public. Democrats participated, but denounced them as political theater.
Representative Silvestre Reyes, a Texas Democrat, said the hearings were political, not practical.
``Congress needs to get back to work in Washington to reach a compromise agreement on comprehensive border security and immigration reform legislation," Reyes said.
Reynaldo Garza, acting Border Patrol chief of the Laredo sector, testified yesterday that he worries about possible links between drug cartels and terrorists.
``Yes, there is an opportunity for them to infuse these types of persons that would do America harm into these" organizations, Garza said.
Garza said high-tech tools such as remote video systems and ground sensor equipment are critical in securing the border.
Sheriff Rick Flores of Webb County, which includes Laredo, described what he called ``high risk" border infiltrations, noting that many arrests involve non-Mexicans.
This week, Senator Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, held a hearing in Philadelphia on the issue featuring New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Specter supports the Senate bill.
Bloomberg testified Thursday that the economy of New York and the nation would collapse if illegal immigrants were deported en masse.
Republican-led House committees will hold hearings outside Washington later this month on making English the nation's official language, and how enforcement of immigration laws affects American workers.