Proponents of immigration reform are rethinking their support for a bill that could give 11 million undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship. The reason? Attached to the legislation is the most draconian border enforcement strategy in American history.
By all available statistics, the border is already the safest it has ever been.
Last year the U.S. spent $18 billion on border security, the most ever. In the last seven years, the number of border patrol agents has doubled to 21,370. Data from the Department of Homeland Security show that fewer and fewer people are making it across the border.
|By all available statistics, the border is already the safest it has ever been. But that is not enough for Republicans who want to spend $40 billion over 10 years.|
But that is not enough for Republicans.
A bill pending in the U.S. Senate now includes an additional $40 billion in spending over the next 10 years. It calls for 18,000 new agents to patrol the border and 700 miles of additional fencing. That provision—known as the Corker-Hoeven amendment—is considered crucial to being raised by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
The surge would bring the number of Border Patrol agents to 40,000. But the union representing border patrol agents told The Washington Times and The National Review Online, last week that Border Patrol doesn’t have the infrastructure to handle that many agents.
Aides from Republican Senators Bob Corker (Tennessee) and John Hoeven (North Dakota) did not return calls seeking comment, but a press release on Corker’s website called the amendment “the toughest border security measure to ever pass the senate.”
U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) represents border communities in El Paso, Texas. He says the border is already secure.
“Fencing and walls are bad policy,” O’Rourke says. “They waste billions of taxpayer dollars and do almost nothing to achieve the goals of reducing illegal immigration and smuggling. In a time of tight budgets and sequester, we should not be spending money on a threat that does not exist.”
Victor Manjarrez, the former Chief of Border Patrols for the Tucson, Arizona section and current associate director of the National Center of Border Security and Immigration at University of Texas El Paso echoes that sentiment.
“It’s not a smart approach, to be honest,” Manjarrez says. “It’s not a good use of taxpayer dollars. Setting a goal of zero illegal entrance into this country is like telling a chief of police there should be zero crime in a city. The question is how do you differentiate the people who are coming up for economic reasons and those who are here for terrorist.
Manjarrez says the money would be better spent staffing employees at ports of entry and funding agents and officials at Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Rational voices who are close to the issue have been saying the emphasis on border security has been misguided all along. Just a few weeks ago, the bill before the Senate included $4.5 billion devoted to border security. Advocates said that was excessive then, and even The Wall Street Journal and The Economist chimed in to agree.
|“It will create one of the most militarized communities in the world, up there with Korea.”|
Fernando Garcia is the executive director of Border Network for Human Rights. He says the Corker-Hoeven amendment creates a “powerful dilemma” for his group, which supports a path to citizenship but also opposes an escalation of military activity in border towns.
“We were both disappointed and outraged,” Garcia says of the passage of the Corker-Hoeven amendment. “What they are proposing, if it comes to law, will create one of the most militarized communities in the world, up there with Korea.”
Korean officials contacted by The Washington Spectator could not provide an exact estimate of how much is spent on securing the Demilitarized Zone between South Korea and North Korea because they are considered “defense expenditures.” The United Nations Information Center did not return a request for data in time for this story.
Korea-sized or not, Garcia says the idea of flooding the border with drones, troops, and fencing is the wrong way to go.
“What the Corker-Hoeven amendment does is militarize communities in America to meet a political agenda,” Garcia says. “Opening the door for militarizing communities in America should be routinely rejected by American citizens. It is a false dilemma to make us choose between drones and helicopters in our backyard and a pathway to citizenship.”
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said he will not introduce a bill that does not have support of more than half of his conference, what’s known as the Hastert Rule. Even if Boehner were tempted to break the rule, as he has in the past to seek compromise, the far right-wing of the Republican Party has threatened to remove him from the Speakership.
And not everyone on the left is outright withdrawing support for reform legislation.
The Service Employees International Union has been a leading voice in the fight for immigration reform for over a decade. SEIU Treasurer Eliso Medina says that although he doesn’t like any of the provisions in Corker-Hoeven, the good that comes from a pathway to citizenship and an overhaul of temporary work permits will outweigh the bad.
“We think Corker-Hoeven is wasteful, it makes no sense, its a very high price that taxpayers have to pay for republican support for a pathway to citizenship,” Medina says.
“We know throwing more money at the problem is not going to fix it. Having said this, and taking into account the legitimate concerns of border communities, we still think legalizing 11 million people—reuniting families, and beginning to deal with the problems of temporary work permits—the good outweighs the bad. So we are going to hold our nose and push for it.”
Win Vitkowsky is a journalist who lives and works in New York and New Haven. (Image via)