Tidbits From An Immigration Field Hearing In Hamilton, Montana
September 01, 2006, 07:36 PM
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Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo was the surprise — to me, anyway — presence at the House Resources Committee field hearing in Hamilton, Montana on Monday, 28 August. The event happened because Montana's lone House member, Denny Rehberg, had lobbied Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert for a hearing up here. None of their other colleagues were present and Rehberg isn't on that committee, so Tancredo chaired the session.Tancredo Talking To A Montanan

Unlike the other hearings held across the country, this one didn't focus on publicizing the horrors jammed into the Senate bill passed in May. Instead, its subjects were the security (or lack) at the Canadian border and the impacts on the federally-owned lands that make up most of that border from Washington to North Dakota.

You can read state newspapers' generic coverage of the proceedings here, here, and here. This being still-civil Montana, the small corps of loony-leftists protesting the hearing weren't in our faces, though they did manage to get quoted in the articles.

Hamilton's hometown paper, the Ravalli Republic, also did a "color" story on the hearing's background from the point of view of the grievance brigade, which included this interesting passage:

Deborah Smith, who represented [PN note: The only testifiers at the hearing were the five pre-arranged bureacrats and law-enforcement personnel, so it's not clear what "represented" means here.] the American Immigration Lawyers Association at Monday's hearing, called the hearing “an anti-immigration road show.”

Smith, who lives in Helena, said Tancredo is out of touch with most members of his own party in Congress. She compared him to the “equivalent of Eugene McCarthy on immigration issues.” McCarthy was the U.S. Senator from Wisconsin made famous for labeling hundreds of people communists during the early part of the Cold War in the 1950s.

[snip]

The House bill, she said, aims at a total crackdown on every aspect of immigration and border security and does not take into account legitimate issues such as the guest-worker program, earned citizenship, and allowing benefits for those immigrants who are living and working in the U.S. legally.

Presumably Tancredo is "out of touch with most members of his own party" in the same way that the large majority of Americans who want immigration to be controlled and reduced are out of touch with the open-borders lobby. And I can't tell if the misinformation about Eugene McCarthy and about the "House bill vs. legal immigrants" reveals an ill-educated immigration lawyer or a wet-behind-the-ears reporter.

Below are some hearing items you won't find in the newspapers' coverage. Since I'm a slow note-taker, direct quotes are all approximate:

— I estimate that there were about 100 of us in the audience, not bad for a gorgeous Monday afternoon in a city of 4,400 that's about 50 miles from the nearest commercial airport [Missoula].

— In his opening remarks, Tancredo mentioned that growing attention to immigration nationally has led to 30 states passing immigration-related legislation, "some without much import, but Georgia's law is really solid." — Rehberg mentioned that he'd heard many exasperated "Why Hamilton?" queries regarding the hearing's venue. His response was "Why not Hamilton? It's more accessible than actual northern border towns such as Havre or Malta." [Montana map: Find Hamilton directly south of Missoula, Havre and Malta northeast of Great Falls.] Of course this begs the question "Why not in bigger, more centrally located Helena or Butte?"

— The first two federal bureaucrats ["swivel servants"] who testified — Abigail Kimbell of the Forest Service and Jeff Copp from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office in Denver — each opened their statements mentioning the need for "comprehensive immigration reform, including border security and a guestworker program."

After Kimbell finished her testimony, which was mostly about heavy (and potentially violence-connected) drug traffic across remote border sections within national forests, Tancredo asked her "Given the problems you're confronting, how is a guestworker program relevant?"

After his introductory boilerplate remarks, Copp also talked about cross-border drug traffic, much of it involving helicopters. This time Rehberg asked "What does a guestworker program have to do with what you said?" Copp responded lamely "Because then we could identify the people involved," which was a perfect set-up for Rehberg's closer "And this would help with helicopters coming across the border?" Rehberg continued, "This is the Resources Committee. It doesn't need to hear about guestworkers. Although I suppose we're going to hear it again from the Border Patrol's representative..."

— Mercifully, Robert Harris, Border Patrol chief agent for the Spokane sector [which extends from eastern Washington across Idaho to the continental divide in Glacier National Park] didn't mention guestworkers in his testimony — perhaps he did a quick, mental edit! And he further impressed me by repeatedly using the term "illegal alien"!

Harris's most interesting point was that they've arrested 3,740 illegal aliens from 39 [!!] countries in the Spokane sector in the last three years. Pitiful numbers compared to the southern border, but awesome diversity!

— To avoid impacts on delicate wilderness lands, the Border Patrol in Harris's sector makes extensive use of horses. So Tancredo raised the question of "quarantining" the horses before use, and asked if it's a big burden for the Border Patrol. Apparently this means that the horses have to be fed a special diet so that their [ahem] feces don't propagate non-native species in the northern forests. As a conservative Republican, Tancredo probably is not an enthusiast for wilderness areas [I don't really know], but it was interesting that he would be cognizant of such a seemingly-obscure issue. Anyway, agent Harris replied that this isn't really a burden.

— Tancredo and Rehberg both emphasized their interest in making useful technologies available to the enforcement people in the agencies testifying. Tancredo recalled witnessing operations when a 100-man group of Marines did a test of their sensor-carrying unmanned aerial vehicle [UAV] along about 100 miles of the border near Bonner's Ferry, Idaho:

The Marines just served as eyes and ears and passed their info to the Border Patrol, who then followed up. You'd have people sneaking across who were immediately greeted by the Border Patrol. "Hi. Welcome to America. Spread 'em'." It was very effective, and in the toughest terrain imaginable. So what happened to all of this?

The response from one of the bureaucrats was that the UAV test had, indeed, worked well, but it involved too many people to be sustainable.

— Final testifier Detective Sergeant Jeremy House of the Billings Police Department, having heard the blather from the testifying feds, set aside his written testimony to speak from his heart. "The border is broken. We're overwhelmed from the south and the north. The amount of meth we're dealing with — 99% pure — has doubled in the last year." Tancredo asked him, "The people you arrest — are they Mexican cartel members? Or are they garden-variety illegals?" House replied, "Both." He went on, "We're very frustrated with the lack of cooperation with ICE higher-ups. There are two ICE agents in my office [Yellowstone County Drug Task Force] who are petrified that I'm testifying here. One was already punished by reassignment to Laredo for 90 days." (Explanation: To understand a preference for Billings, Montana over Laredo, Texas, we recall the wisdom of William Tecumseh Sherman. General Sherman, military governor of Texas after the Civil War said that if he owned both Texas and Hell, he would rent out Texas and live in Hell.)

— Tancredo complained that the federal bureaucrats in front of him were, as usual, saying everything is hunky-dory, that the agencies all play together happily, etc. "But what we hear anonymously from the field flatly contradicts what you're saying here. When I walk away from this hearing, I'll start getting a flood of emails ... Five years after 9/11, we still can't get, say, the Border Patrol talking directly with sheriffs ... No wonder that states are throwing up their hands and trying to tackle immigration themselves." To which Rehberg added, "We're separate from the Executive Branch, and we'll keep your confidences. We'd like to hear from you."