Ventura County’s two congressmen sat shoulder to shoulder Wednesday, testifying at a well-attended public hearing about their controversial proposals to crack down on the flow of illegal immigrants.
Most striking was the presence of Rep. Anthony C. Beilenson (D-Woodland Hills) at the session organized by the Republican Task Force on Illegal Immigration. His appearance before the GOP panel was hailed as evidence that the national issue is outgrowing partisan politics.
Beilenson, in turn, complimented the task force for “an admirable amount of broad-mindedness to allow a Democrat in your midst.”
Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley), meanwhile, basked in his role as a leader of the 32-member task force and Beilenson’s partner on the first group of witnesses to testify. His status as the only non-lawyer on the House Judiciary Committee was cited as a testament to his commitment to an issue that has become a focus of his political identity.
“The only way to keep the front door of legal immigration open is to close the back door of illegal immigration,” said Gallegly, who has nine immigration-related bills pending. “And, my friends, the back door isn’t only open, it’s off the hinges.”
The Republican Task Force on Illegal Immigration is one of several partisan groups formed by members of Congress to raise the profile of specific issues. These groups have no formal power to approve or advance legislation.
The hearing, the third held by the task force, was intended to highlight the growing costs of illegal immigrants in jobs and services and discuss possible solutions.
“Illegal aliens cost the American taxpayers over $12 billion a year--and I might add, that’s direct cost of illegal aliens, not the children of illegal aliens, which is an additional amount,” Gallegly told the task force. “California alone pays some $3 billion, according to the state auditor general.”
Gallegly’s source for the $12-billion figure was a study by Donald Huddle, professor emeritus at Rice University in Houston, that was commissioned by a pro-restrictions group. Immigration specialists at the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan Washington think tank, have questioned Huddle’s methodology and findings.
Beilenson, whose congressional district includes most of Thousand Oaks, has emerged as the House of Representatives’ leading hard-line Democrat on illegal immigration.
At the hearing, he touted his bill to create a tamper-resistant Social Security card to be used by citizens as well as non-citizens seeking work. He maintained that it would stem pervasive document fraud that undermines sanctions against employers who hire illegal residents and would reduce discrimination against minorities.
“The fact is, no matter how many other ways we attempt to curb illegal immigration, we will not succeed unless we make our existing employer-sanctions law enforceable,” Beilenson said. He called it “a relatively easy and practicable way to solve the very difficult problem of illegal immigration.”
He found a receptive audience. “I completely agree with you,” said Rep. Lamar S. Smith (R-Tex.), the task force chairman. “I think this is the issue.”
Gallegly, meanwhile, cited his proposed legislation to strengthen the Border Patrol, create a new tamper-resistant green card for employment and adopt a constitutional amendment to deny automatic citizenship to children born to mothers who are in the United States illegally. The U.S. Constitution guarantees citizenship to anyone born on American soil.
Civil-liberties and immigrant-rights groups strongly oppose both the adoption of a new document for employment as well as the constitutional amendment. They contend that any new card would invite discrimination and loss of privacy. And they say the amendment would trample a sacrosanct tradition that is central to the very notion of citizenship in a land of immigrants.
Gallegly, whom some Latino groups and immigrant-rights advocates charge has exploited the backlash against illegal immigration for political gain, said at a news conference before the hearing that he had “scar tissue on top of scar tissue on this issue.”
Smith said the Clinton Administration had turned down a request to send Atty. Gen. Janet Reno or another official to testify before the partisan task force. No immigrant-rights advocates or civil-liberties groups were invited to participate.
“Those individuals were more than ably represented before various subcommittees,” Smith said in an interview. “Clearly, they’re on record feeling the way they do.”