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Immigration debate hits the road

Members of Congress kicked off a summer-long immigration road show on Wednesday, holding a 'field hearing' in San Diego. NBC's Chip Reid reports from the hearing.

California rancher Donna Tisdale says for years she's watched helplessly as Mexican immigrants have poured through her property.

"We started seeing groups of 50, 60, even 100 people a day coming through, and sometimes it was several times a day, everyday," says Tisdale.

Wednesday, just a few miles away, Tisdale found sympathetic voices, as members of Congress kicked off a summer-long immigration road show.

"We know the American people are frustrated," said Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., at the hearing held Wednesday in San Diego.

"Let's do our jobs so that these people down at the border can do their job and stop this invasion of the United States of America, which is hurting the American people," added Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif.

But Democrats accuse Republicans of staging the hearings for purely political purposes.

"These hearings are not designed to legislate, they're designed to whip up public opinion," said Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif.

It's no accident that this hearing is being held so close to the Mexican border. It's part of a coordinated strategy by Republicans in the House of Representatives to convince the American people that the top priority on immigration is to get control of that border. It's a border that must be secure, they insist, before even considering a guest worker program or citizenship for illegal immigrants.

Recent reports have suggested President Bush might agree with House Republicans to take up border security first. But Wednesday, at a donut shop in Alexandria, Va., owned and run by immigrants, the president reiterated his desire for comprehensive immigration reform.

"We cannot kick people out who've been here for a while," he said.

And in Philadelphia Wednesday, U.S. senators from both parties staged their own road show on the importance of immigrants — even illegal immigrants — to the economy.

"Our city's economy would be a shell of itself if they had not and it would collapse if they were deported," said New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

It's a debate that's certain to continue through the summer, with no guarantee that Congress will actually do anything in the fall.