The meeting drew folks from Livingston, the Paradise Valley, and Bozeman. The room was packed with more than 100 people. In contrast to reports of raucous congressional town-hall meetings in other parts of the country, our event was placid. But, of course, Rehberg is a Republican, and he apparently shares much of the disgust with the federal government that is metastasizing across the land.
The session lasted an hour, sharp. Rehberg spoke for about five minutes at the start, then opened it up for "questions, comments, and opinions on any subject." Some people who wanted to speak lined up behind a microphone in the center aisle, but Rehberg also called upon some of us who raised our hands from seats in the audience.
It wasn't a matter of everybody jumping up at the start. At first there were a few hands, and Rehberg was able to give detailed responses before going on to the next participant. But towards the end, there were way more people who wanted to speak than there was time for, so Rehberg just rushed through them, and many would-be speakers didn't get the chance.
Moral: Be ready to go and jump up right at the start of the audience-participation segment!
I was the sixth person who got to speak, and I made it short, keying off a talking point from a list (see below) Roy Beck included in an email to NumbersUSA faxers. I stood up and said, approximately:
I'm Paul Nachman from Bozeman. Since you mentioned the "educational purpose" of these meetings, I'd like to educate you [Congressman Rehberg] and everyone else here about the fact that the monstrosity of a health care bill passed out of the House committees will allow millions of illegal aliens access to health care because the bill doesn't contain anything to keep this from happening. In particular, Nevada Congressman Dean Heller's amendment to put in safeguards against illegal-alien benefits was defeated in a party-line vote in committee. I wanted to make sure you [Congressman Rehberg] know that.
Then I sat down.
Of course, I don't know if everyone in Rehberg's audience (or among VDARE,COM readers!) takes a dim view of the whole health care bill, as I do. But I'm confident that nobody wants illegal aliens to have access to the benefits in any bill that passes.
Rehberg responded to my statement in a way that showed he was familiar with many issues connected to immigration, including the Heller amendment that I'd mentioned.
Notably, he connected illegal immigration with the fact that "his" congressional district is the most populous in the country, perhaps somewhat of a sore point with him. (He has to travel extensively across Montana's vastness in order to visit all 56 counties during each two-year Congressional term, fulfilling a commitment he's made.) Montana had two districts until the national reapportionment following the 1990 census, and Rehberg pointed out that, for example, California has five House seats more than it otherwise would if illegal aliens weren't included in the count.
He opined that only citizens, not mere "inhabitants", should be counted for apportionment. Apparently he meant that legal resident aliens shouldn't be counted, either — Hear, hear! — since he segued right from apportionment to say that people who come here legally should, before being granted citizenship, be systematically educated in the country's political structures and traditions. "They should take a course and then pass a test, in English!" he said, to the audience's applause.
Two of those who followed me also mentioned illegal immigration, one as a side point on the House health care bill, the other as the central point in some remarks about the need for border security. In response to the latter, Rehberg mentioned, approvingly, "that sheriff in Arizona", to which several others in the audience shouted out "Arpaio!" Evidently, Montanans are paying attention to illegal immigration!
(Other subjects raised by the audience were all over the place. A woman who runs a thrift store complained about some new, unworkable rules handed down by the Consumer Products Safety Commission. A 9/11 "truther" invited Rehberg to one of their upcoming meetings. A man complained that Social Security recipients aren't getting a Cost of Living Adjustment, saying this was ridiculous in the context of spending a bunch more money on health care. Someone else asked "Why can't we get a line-item veto?" Etc. Etc.)
So ... have you thought of attending a meeting with your Representative? A list of such meetings (I don't know how complete) is here.
The benefit of your making a point about immigration at such a session is to remind your Rep of our subject's importance and to let your fellow attendees at the meeting know what's going on. The meetings aren't a good venue for going into great depth on any subject by hogging the floor for five minutes.
If you're going, prepare yourself with talking points, and make them terse — you don't want to babble away, both losing and annoying the rest of the audience. (Of course, if you attend a meeting to which, for example, only 15 people show up, you may have a chance to get more ideas across, so go prepared for that, too.)
Regarding the House and Senate health care bills themselves, irrespective of immigration, I'm of the school that the touted national crisis is trumped up, that there's really no crisis at all, and that all the proposals (aside from malpractice torts reform) are bad news. I think the global argument against this mania is the most solid (i.e. instead of mud-wrestling over legislative details), and the irreplaceable Thomas Sowell has already made it for us, in a more general context:
Many economic issues are complex, but sometimes a single fact will tell you all you need to know. When you know that central planners in the Soviet Union had to set 24 million prices–and keep adjusting them, relative to one another, as conditions changed–you realize that central planning did not just happen to fail. It had no chance of succeeding from the outset. It is a wholly different ball game when hundreds of millions of people individually keep track of the relatively few prices they need to know for their own decision making in a market economy.
Finally, here are Roy Beck's suggested immigration talking points for town-hall meetings this month. (You'll find back-up material for all these points at the NumbersUSA website.):
* When a House Committee debating healthcare legislation defeated an amendment that would have required immigration status checks for benefit applications, the members responsible voted to allow illegal aliens to apply for coverage under the new system being developed. Although the bill says illegal aliens are not covered, it does not include language to stop them from applying. Will you support an amendment requiring verification of legal status for all non-emergency room benefits and care?
* The healthcare legislation in Congress says "undocumented aliens" can't receive benefits, but there is no language requiring that applicants be checked for eligibility. In fact, there is specific language in the House bill that guarantees illegal aliens will get benefits. Section 1714 states, "in determining eligibility for services under this subsection, the State may consider only the income of the applicant or recipient." Enrollment would be automatic irrespective of legal status. Do you believe illegal aliens should be given access non-essential health services even though this would cost American taxpayers billions of dollars per year?
* The Homeland Security spending bill passed by the Senate would help skyrocketing unemployment rates by strengthening the E-Verify employment eligibility system and ensuring that taxpayer-funded jobs go to unemployed Americans and legal immigrants. Similar language was stripped from the stimulus bill, a bill that was supposed to help American workers. Will you work to ensure that the Senate-passed E-Verify provisions are retained in the final spending bill?
* The SAVE Act addresses the core issue of illegal immigration: the jobs magnet. It recognizes that our illegal immigration mess has primarily been caused by our government allowing unscrupulous businesses to hire illegal workers at the expense of American workers. The American people don’t want an amnesty and don’t want to have to compete with illegal aliens for jobs. Will you become a co-sponsor of the SAVE Act and help put some teeth in immigration enforcement?
* There are more than 15 million Americans who are looking for a job but cannot find one, and approximately 6 million non-farm jobs that are currently filled by illegal aliens. There are no longer any excuses for continuing to allow business or government to hire illegal aliens when so many citizens and legal residents are suffering. Will you support mandatory E-Verify workplace eligibility checks for new and existing employees?
* In these times of high unemployment, why does Congress continue to bring in an additional 138,000 foreign workers every month? And why are approximately 8.3 million illegal workers allowed to remain in their jobs?
* The American people have rejected "comprehensive" immigration reform like the 2007 "grand bargain" amnesty bill in the Senate, and piecemeal amnesties like the DREAM Act and AgJobs. Isn't it time for Congress to say NO to another amnesty and give the American people the enforcement that has been promised us since the 1986 amnesty?
* The PASS ID Act would gut the REAL ID Act and return us to the pre-9/11 standard of identity validation, which allows state DMVs to rubber-stamp the identity documents of driver’s license applicants without verification of their authenticity. Validation without verification was the process that enabled 9/11 hijackers to secure driver’s licenses using fake documents. Have you forgotten the lessons of 9/11 or will you oppose the PASS ID Act?
* We only have a few thousand immigration agents responsible for tracking down at least 12 million illegal aliens. But we have over 750,000 state and local police that can help enforce immigration laws. Will you make sure the federal government fully funds the 287(g) program that allows state and local police to help during the course of their routine duties?