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The House of Representatives held its first hearing on immigration today at the Imperial Beach Border Patrol Station. Republicans reiterated the necessity for border control while Democrats, sitting on the opposite side of the panel, criticized the hearings to be held across the country as a charade.

On the other side of the country in Philadelphia, the Senate Judiciary Committee held its own inquiry to discuss the need for guest worker programs. Today’s hearings sets in motion another round of discussions on immigration as the House and Senate try to compromise conflicting bills – one advocating a guest worker program, the other for more border build-up.

Terrorism, securing U.S. borders and adequate enforcement were the main issues brought up by the house representatives and witnesses during the San Diego hearing. Chief Patrol Agent of the San Diego Sector Darryl Griffen talked about the need for more resources for the Border Patrol. He said in the current fiscal year, 108,000 people have entered the country illegally, 900 of them are considered “Other Than Mexican” nationals. Among the Border Patrol’s greatest needs are more advanced remote video surveillance system and tunnel-detection technology, Griffen said.

Sheriffs from Los Angeles, San Diego and Texas were also brought in to talk about enforcement. The sheriffs in the panel said they would not have enough resources to enforce the House legislation, which would make it a felony to enter country illegally. They also said a national identification program would help in properly identifying undocumented immigrants.

But what brought much cheers and applause from the audience – many of whom were members of the Minutemen Project – was talk of sanctions against employers and the need to alleviate the “magnet” that draw millions to cross the border illegally.

“The problem is not just at the border, getting across the border,” Rep. Brian Bilbray, R-Carlsbad. “The real problem is in our neighborhoods.”

Democrats continually criticized the hearings as an attempt by their counterparts to “cover-up” failures of the country’s Republican leadership.

“We know little has been done,” Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, said during her opening statement. “And when the going gets tough, there’s a lot of talk and no action.”

Today, President Bush also continued his call for comprehensive immigration reform and his support for a guest worker program.

Outside of the hearing, Angelina Casillas-Corona, president of the Hermanidad Mexicana Nacional saw little validity in the hearing, saying not everyone was heard. Her group was not allowed to attend the hearing because the room reached maximum occupancy.

MARNETTE FEDERIS

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