Border overwhelmed, GOP lawmakers testify
Panel explores effects of illegal immigration By EUNICE MOSCOSO Cox News Service Friday, November 11, 2005 Washington —
Illegal immigrants are overwhelming hospitals, sheriff's departments, jails and courts in border communities, Republican lawmakers testified Thursday.
"Gangs and drug traffickers can easily overwhelm small, local law enforcement departments," said Rep. Henry Bonilla, whose Texas district includes 700 miles of the U.S.- Mexico border. "Imagine if this was happening in your town. You might feel under siege."
Bonilla told a House panel that border areas are also experiencing an "invasion" of immigrants from countries other than Mexico, including some from nations that the United States monitors for possible terrorist activity.
As of October, 146,000 non-Mexican illegal immigrants had crossed the border this year, he said.
Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.) testified that in his district, the Border Patrol has apprehended two illegal immigrants from Afghanistan, two from Indonesia, nine from Iran and one from Syria over the past two years.
In addition, he said, small sheriff's departments in his district are increasingly called on to assist in catching illegal immigrants and spend a quarter of their operating budgets assisting the Border Patrol.
At the hearing of the House subcommittee on immigration, border security and claims, some lawmakers cautioned against scapegoating immigrants.
"I know many blame immigrants for all of our nation's ills, but the statistics I see and the people I meet ? reflect an entirely different perspective," said Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.).
Immigrant workers — both legal and illegal — make up more than 25 percent of factory workers in Chicago and almost half of the blue-collar, service-related and unskilled jobs there, he said.
"It is not an exaggeration to say that our city would grind to a halt without these workers," Gutierrez added.
The hearing was the first in a series to explore the effects and costs of illegal immigration on crime, medical care, schools and government programs.
Future hearings will include testimony from lawmakers from North Carolina, Georgia and other states that have experienced large increases in immigration over the past several years.
The hearing also addressed the potential threat of a terrorist attack as a result of poor immigration security and control. Bonilla cited two newspaper articles pointing to terrorist plots to infiltrate the United States through the porous Southern border.
But John P. Clark, deputy assistant secretary of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said in an interview that there is no evidence to suggest that terrorists have tried to enter the United States through Mexico.
Gutierrez and other lawmakers said the only solution to the immigration problem is to allow illegal immigrants to come out of the shadows and apply for legal work permits.
President Bush is pushing a temporary worker plan and several proposals have been introduced in Congress. But the issue has split Republicans — with some favoring some type of "guest worker" program and others strongly opposed to giving visas to people who have broken the law to enter the United States.
Other immigration proposals also have been introduced, including a measure by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, to build a 2,000-mile, high-tech security fence along the border with Mexico. _________________