Congressman Brad Sherman said a House hearing here Wednesday accentuates the Bush administration's failure to secure our borders and shines a spotlight on Republican Party discord that has blocked immigration reform in Congress.
"Our colleagues look to our committee to oversee our State Department and foreign policy. What we are giving them instead is the first in a series of traveling political shows designed to inflame partisanship," Sherman said. "The only upside is that these hearings will illuminate that the party that controls Washington, D.C., has failed to control our border - or to adopt a regular legal system for America to get the number of workers it needs legally."
Sherman is a senior Democrat on the House International Relations Committee and the ranking Democrat on the Subcommittee on International Terrorism and Nonproliferation. The panel follows the hearing at the Imperial Beach Boarder Patrol Station in San Diego with another on Friday in Laredo, Texas.
"These are the first in a series of immigration field hearings of various House committees mandated by the Republican leadership," Sherman said,
"I am surprised that Republican leadership has embarked this a series of dog and pony shows. They've got some really mangy dogs and some really ugly ponies after six mangy years of failure to control our borders, and six ugly years of failure to devise and enforce an immigration policy."
The Republican majority in Congress, Sherman noted, had thwarted proposals by Democrats to enhance border security that would have added 6,600 more Border Patrol agents, 14,000 more detention beds, and 2,700 more immigration agents along our borders.
Sherman commended Congressman Edward R. Royce, the subcommittee chairman, who has been bipartisan in his approach to the important foreign policy matters. "It is a shame that these field hearings have been swallowed up by the House Republican leadership's national political agenda."
Here is the congressman's opening statement:
Opening statement of Congressman Brad Sherman
Ranking Minority Member
House International Relations Committee
Subcommittee on International Terrorism and Nonproliferation
Border Vulnerabilities and International Terrorism, Part I
July 5, 2006 San Diego, California
Mr. Chairman, let me first thank you for graciously allowing members of Congress not on the International Relations Committee to participate in these hearings. I do not agree with us holding these hearings. But you have, as always, conducted yourself in a bipartisan fashion notwithstanding the partisan rancor surrounding the nation-wide gaggle of field hearings that have been scheduled on immigration-related issues this summer.
I want to commend your work on the Committee; we have had a good working relationship, and I know that will continue.
This is a critically important topic, but the way these hearings are designed, we simply are out of our jurisdiction. As an International Relations panel, we have jurisdiction over the foreign affairs agencies and laws of the United States. We oversee the Department of State, not the Department of Homeland Security. The subject of these hearings is more in the portfolio of the Homeland Security Committee, Appropriations Committee, Intelligence Committee or Judiciary Committee. I want to know how terrorists intend to get to our homeland to attack us. I want to know what we are doing diplomatically to urge other countries to improve their own immigration controls, so that Mexico, South and Central America are not gateways for terrorists.
But we are not in Washington hearing from the State Department and foreign policy experts, as is the purpose of our committee. We are in San Diego and Laredo this week to hear from Border Patrol, from county Sheriffs, from border security and immigration experts and a citizen activist, focusing on matters that are within the jurisdiction of other committees. Our colleagues look to our committee to oversee our State Department and foreign policy. What we are giving them is the first in a series of traveling political shows designed to inflame partisanship. The only upside is that the hearing will illustrate that the party which controls Washington has failed to control our border - or to adopt a regular legal system for America to get the number of workers it needs legally. I know that was not your intention when you planned these hearings, but that's what we have here, pursuant to the game plan of Republican House Leadership.
That said, let me highlight what I view as the failings of current border control policy.
On several occasions, we on this side of the aisle have tried to get more Border Patrol officers, more detention space for those awaiting deportation and, often working together with Republican colleagues from border states, on getting more help for the states and local government to beef up security. But, to paraphrase our colleague Tom Tancredo, we have had to drag the President kicking and screaming for more resources for border security.
Since 2001, more than 2 million undocumented immigrants have come to the US. Notwithstanding the fact that he signed the 911 Act mandating that 2,000 more Border Patrol agents be added every year from 2006-2010, Bush requested only 210 in his 2006 budget. Just 210. The 2007 funding bill for Homeland Security would provide only an additional 1,200 next year. Even with the additional 1,000 agents provided recently by the emergency Katrina appropriations bill, we are still 800 agents short of the 4,000 promised in the 911 Act for 2006 and 2007.
Canada is a known entry point for terrorists - there is no need to rely on shadowy intelligence there. Remember the Millennium Plot to blow up Los Angeles Airport on New Years Eve? There is one agent for every five miles along our northern border - a whopping total of 952 agents watch that expanse. That's actually a decrease from the 1008 on that frontier in 2005.
And then there is catch and release. Currently, we cannot simply return non-Mexicans who are detained crossing the Southern border. Mexico won't take them. These Other Than Mexicans (OTM) have to be held until we can process them back to their countries of origin, usually by giving them a plane ticket. But we don't have the detention space to hold them.
About 165,000 OTMs were caught by border patrol in 2005. Seventy percent of these OTMs end up on the streets. Most don't bother to appear for their deportation hearing. And yes, some are from so-called "countries of interest," where terrorism is a known threat. The 911 Act called for 8,000 more detention beds in 2006, a modest increase in itself. The 2006 funding bill only provided for 4000. A Democratic proposal to get to the 8,000 was rejected. The 2006 and 2007 funding bills combined leave us 5,000 beds short of what was called for by the 911 Act.
I invited Sheriff Baca to appear today. One, he's my sheriff and I didn't want San Diego and Webb Counties to have all the fun. I wanted to hear about his Department's innovative Terrorism Early Warning Group, which is a model for federal-local cooperation. But he will also testify to how we have completely ripped off states and local governments by failing to take care of our own federal responsibility: the detention of criminal illegal immigrants.
George W. Bush has repeatedly tried to cut or eliminate SCAAP - the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program - which reimburses states for the costs associated with jailing undocumented criminals. Since it's the feds who didn't stop these criminals from entering our country in the first place, it should be our responsibility to help the states and local governments cover the costs of incarcerating them.
Finally, I would like to conclude by saying that we simply cannot get a handle on border security until we figure out our broader immigration policy. We have two signs up on our border - "Help Wanted" and "Keep Out." As long as we have a need for foreign labor, and lack a policy to address that need, we will have chaos at the border, illegal immigration and human smuggling. Will terrorists blend in with those entering our country illegally? Will they use the same smuggling networks to gain entry? It is certainly possible. With a normalized process for temporary workers and legal immigrants, we can focus our manpower and resources on those who are real threats to our security.
Thank you again, Mr. Chairman. I also thank the witnesses and especially my colleagues for attending.