House panel hosts hearing on illegal immigration in San Diego |

House panel hosts hearing on illegal immigration in San Diego

Allison Hoffman

SAN DIEGO (AP) – House Republicans, speaking Wednesday at a field hearing aimed at exposing flaws in rival Senate legislation, said illegal immigrants cost taxpayers by straining government services.

Democrats said GOP leaders were stalling to avoid a bruising fight within their party over a sweeping immigration overhaul before November midterm elections.

The House Judiciary Committee met at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in what Republicans billed as a hearing to examine “the tremendous burden” that Senate legislation would impose on taxpayers to pay for health care, education and other services. About 100 people attended the 90-minute hearing.

“If we do not control the costs of illegal immigration we will be shutting the door to legal immigration,” said House Judiciary Committee Chair James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., who authored legislation approved by the House in December that focuses on tougher enforcement.

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Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich said illegal immigration was a “catastrophic” drain on public schools, hospitals and the criminal justice system, costing the county more than $1 billion a year.

But Wayne Cornelius, a political scientist at the University of California, San Diego, testified that a guest worker program would allow illegal immigrants to freely go back and forth to their home countries rather than staying in the U.S. permanently, reducing the burden on public coffers.

Democrats asked why hearings were being held after bills have already passed.

“These hearings are a con job on the American people,” said Rep. Howard Berman, D-North Hollywood, who accused Republicans of avoiding a fight within the party ahead of elections. President Bush supports a guest-worker program and a path to citizenship for many illegal immigrants, provisions that were included in Senate legislation passed in May.

U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, defended the timing.

“The reason it’s a good idea to have them now is that we’re at an impasse,” Gohmert said.”

In July, House Republicans launched the unusual series of summer field hearings, including seven this week. They meet Thursday in Phoenix and Las Cruces, N.M.

Sensenbrenner has repeatedly said that he would reject a compromise that includes what he describes as “amnesty” for illegal immigrants.

Before the hearing, Catholic leaders including the Rev. Gilbert Chavez, auxiliary bishop of San Diego, gathered on the steps of downtown’s St. Joseph Cathedral to denounce the hearings.

“It’s time to put an end to these hearings that are asking all the wrong questions,” said Rosemary Johnston, a board member of the Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights.

— Associated Press Writer Elliot Spagat contributed to this report.

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