The Republican leadership of the House of Representatives has let it be known that instead of immediately convoking a conference committee to reconcile House and Senate bills on immigration (HR 4437 and S 2611), they are going to organize public hearings around the country on the Senate, but not the House, bill.

News reports suggest that this is the brainchild of House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), who have drawn a line in the sand against any break for the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants in this country. As the Senate bill, which has many flaws, also holds out the hope of legalizing some of the undocumented, they have set out to sabotage it. The decision to hold these show hearings was also evidently stimulated by the victory of right-wing Republican Brian Bilbray in California’s 50th Congressional District special election June 6, attributed by the Republican right to Bilbray’s demagogic use of fear of immigration to get votes.

This brings back bad memories of the old House Committee on Un-American Activities, which used to carry out local “hearings” on “communist infiltration” to support the agendas of local industrialists and right-wing politicians. The mentality of Hastert-Sensenbrenner is the same as that of people like Martin Dies and J. Parnell Thomas of the 1950s, and they are as capable of using the hearings as a witch-hunt. They are likely to invite testimony from anti-immigrant forces and block testimony from defenders of immigrants’ rights and the immigrant community itself. The goal? To use immigrants as a collective “Willie Horton” to stave off Republican defeat in November.

All progressive people should demand that they listen to all sides, especially immigrants themselves. And we must keep fighting for a comprehensive immigration reform that allows legalization with a clear path to citizenship for the undocumented and full rights for immigrant and non-immigrant workers. As the Republican control of Congress is the major obstacle to a just and practical immigration reform, we need to make sure that this control is taken away from them in November.