Congressional Republicans considering an overhaul of the nation's immigration laws are leaving Washington to examine labor needs and the vulnerabilities of the nation's borders.
A subcommittee meeting Wednesday at a San Diego Border Patrol station will examine security lapses that could make the U.S. more exposed to terrorism. Meanwhile, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., will host a hearing in Philadelphia about a need for foreign workers.
The San Diego hearing - and another by the same panel Friday in Laredo, Texas - are likely be filled with references to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida.
Democratic boycott nixd
"My mission is to investigate our border security shortcomings post-9/11," said Rep. Ed Royce of Fullerton, chairman of the International Relations subcommittee on International Terrorism and Nonproliferation. "The problem is that border security has become national security."
Democrats initially considered boycotting the hearings, but will treat them as a platform to assail an enforcement-only approach to immigration reform, said Rep. Brad Sherman, a Sherman Oaks Democrat.
"If they want to have a dog-and-pony show, that's fine," said Sherman, the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee. "They have really ugly dogs and really mangy ponies."
Multiple hearings, nationwise
House GOP leaders called the hearings last month in a blow to President Bush's ambitious election-year plan that includes a guest worker program and path to citizenship for millions in the country illegally - as does a Senate-approved bill backed by Specter.
A separate House-approved bill focuses only on enforcement.
"This is an opportunity for one, big rolling town meeting across the country," said Mark Williams, a conservative radio host in Sacramento.
Republicans on the panel include Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado, a leading voice for a crackdown on illegal immigration, and Rep. Peter King of New York, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, who broke with the White House on immigration.
Democrats in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus planned to attend the San Diego hearing to demand the House GOP answer for its "failed record" on immigration.
Specter's hearing in Philadelphia was scheduled to feature New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Republican-led House committees will hold hearings outside Washington in mid-July on making English the nation's official language, and on how enforcement of immigration laws affects American workers.
A mid-August hearing in Arizona will focus on costs to local and state governments.