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House Republicans meet in SD for immigration hearing

House Republicans are hitting the road this summer. They're taking their immigration bill with them and have a schedule filled with hearings on the topic. House Republicans say they're seeking public input on immigration. But Democrats say the hearings are a ploy to rally election support and stall immigration negotiations. KPBS Border reporter Amy Isackson brings us this report from the first meeting that was held yesterday in San Diego.

About 200 people packed into a Border Patrol station just a few miles this side of Tijuana, Mexico for the hearing. And another 70 or so overflowed into a tent outside.

House panel Chairman Ed Royce of Fullerton began the meeting by stating the purpose - to address border security specifically the threat of terrorists sneaking into the United States from Mexico.

Royce: "Reducing illegal entry across our border is now more than ever a matter of national security."

Royce said he hoped the meeting advanced that cause. But when he yielded the floor, ranking Democrat Brad Sherman of Sherman Oaks wasted no time in questioning that motive.

Royce: "I'm frankly mystified why Republican leadership wants us to start here today with a series of immigration hearings that are really dog and pony shows. The reason I'm mystified is they've got some really ugly dogs and some really mangy ponies."

Sherman blamed Republicans for losing control of the border during the last six years.

The House and Senate have passed competing immigration bills. The House version focuses solely on enforcement. The Senate's would create a guest worker program and a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

Much of yesterday's testimony focused on the border itself and bolstered the House proposals for beefing up technology and building more fences. Discussion also turned to enforcement in the nation's interior.

Republican Brian Bilbray of San Diego revved up the audience when he asked the chief Border Patrol agent why they don't crackdown on illegal immigrants away from the border

Bilbray: "Chief, in my neighborhood, Home Depot is a major hub. It's a community center."

Democrat Brad Sherman fired back.

Sherman: "Mr. Chairman, if I could just comment, our subcommittee focuses on terrorism. And I doubt there are many terrorists at Home Depot."

Sherman says House Republicans are stretching when they link day laborers and terrorists. Critics have further blasted Republicans for stocking the witness list with people sympathetic to their cause.

Down the street from the hearing, immigrant rights activists who said they were excluded held a protest. They pounded crosses into the ground to remember migrants who've died crossing the border.

Tomorrow, the House panel heads to Laredo, Texas for another hearing on border security. Amy Isackson, KPBS News.

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