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Tragedy or Farce?



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On Friday I was one of only two witnesses (the other being Douglas Holtz-Eakin) to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the comprehensive immigration-reform bill. My comments here are not about the substance of my testimony, but about process.

The proposed measure is poised to profoundly reorder our society, both economically and sociologically, and the Gang of Eight drops a bewilderingly complex 844-page bill with innumerable moving parts — a bill drafted behind closed doors on the rest of the Senate only 48 hours before the hearing. There was hardly time to absorb more than the title and preamble before the hearing, at a time when most of the nation and Congress were rightly occupied with the hunt for the surviving Boston Marathon bomber (indeed, the only other witness scheduled to testify was DHS secretary Janet Napolitano, who had to cancel due to the developments involving the imminent capture of the suspect).

My written testimony on the bill had to be submitted barely 24 hours after the bill was unveiled and less than 24 hours before the hearing itself. The hearing lasted two hours (in Washington, that’s quite short), with only one round of questioning by Senate Judiciary Committee members. After complaints about the limited hearing time, the committee hastily scheduled another hearing for today, this time involving 23 witnesses. A friend who will be testifying today tells me he was notified by the committee at the close of business Friday to appear this morning. He was still writing his testimony late last night. Obviously, the witnesses will be a blur, their testimonies will be general. No time for close questioning of the witnesses or engagement over the issues.

By way of contrast, when the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights conducted a comparatively inconsequential hearing last August on the very narrow issue of the impact of state laws on illegal immigration, 20 witnesses testified. They were notified months in advance. Their written testimony was submitted weeks beforehand, and commissioners had more than ample time to analyze the contents and prepare for the hearing. And the commission, of which I’m a member, wasn’t analyzing an 844-page bill, nor was it in any way poised to radically alter our immigration system. We were just assembling findings to issue a report, which Congress might then consider at some point in the future when debating immigration reform.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but this process is an abomination. I’ve testified numerous times before the judiciary committee, including the confirmation hearings of the last four nominees to the Supreme Court. Never has the committee treated a matter of such magnitude so cavalierly. One member of the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body used his limited time on Friday to ask me just one urgent question — about my Wikipedia page.

Regardless of where you stand on the immigration debate, this should infuriate you. We Americans are being horribly served by this process.



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