June 26, 2013
Border Security Rule Costs Bill Support
PHOENIX — A push to assuage opposition to the bipartisan immigration bill before Congress by devoting more money and muscle to the task of securing the border with Mexico has yielded at least one unforeseen consequence: It weakened support for the bill among some pro-immigrant groups that had been its most reliable backers.
Advocates have staged protests in several cities this week denouncing a plan endorsed by the Senate to inject $40 billion in enforcement measures over the next decade, including 18,000 more Border Patrol agents and 700 more miles of the hulking steel fence that demarcates the countries.
Leaders of Presente.org, the nation’s largest online Latino advocacy organization, took the step of opposing the broader immigration bill altogether, saying in a statement they could not “in good conscience” stand by it if it is also “guaranteed to increase death and destruction through increased militarization of the border.”
Other advocates are considering the same path as they increasingly shift their criticism to the Democrats. In closed-door meetings, many have accused Democrats of giving up on a balanced compromise over immigration reform just to move the bill forward.
“Is this the way they’re going to, quote-unquote, resolve immigration issues?” said Fernando Garcia, executive director for the Border Network for Human Rights, based in El Paso, Tex.
The group is one of several that signed a letter to the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” senators who drafted the bill, denouncing the border-security proposal, an amendment by two Republican senators, Bob Corker of Tennessee and John Hoeven of North Dakota, that they said made no mention of the families it is bound to keep apart.
“This amendment makes border communities a sacrificial lamb, in exchange for the road to citizenship,” said Christian Ramirez, director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition, based in San Diego.
By focusing on border security, the Corker-Hoeven plan — brought to a vote quickly and under criticism by conservative legislators, who said they had not been given enough time to digest it — helped break the resistance of more than a dozen Republican senators to overhauling immigration laws. Fifteen of them joined Democrats to advance the measure by a vote of 67-27.
Its provisions, the toughest in the history of border-enforcement buildup, got Mexico to break its silence on Tuesday, when Foreign Minister José Antonio Meade told reporters: “Fences do not unite us. They are not the solution to the migratory phenomenon and are not consistent with a secure and modern border.”
The approach did draw praise from Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona, who signed a law in 2010 that reignited the debate over illegal immigration in the United States. She stopped short of lending her support to the bill before Congress. “I have faith that House Republicans will improve the bill by making securing our border the top priority,” she said.
At a meeting here on Wednesday, in the fellowship room of a church on the edge of downtown, leaders of 20 immigrant rights’ groups grappled with what to do next. One, Carlos Garcia, executive director of Puente, said: “There’s no outrage at what’s going on. We can’t just put our head down and accept this is the best we’re going to get.”
Máxima Guerrero, of the Arizona Dream Act Coalition, asked, “Where do we actually draw the line?” Reyna Montoya, Arizona organizer for United We Dream, said that no matters what happens, “We’re not willing to compromise on citizenship.”
Petra Falcón, executive director of Promise Arizona, who worked for 15 years along the southern border, said the Corker-Hoeven amendment “caught a lot of people off guard” and called it “overkill” because of the amount of resources it devotes to security.
But Ms. Falcón said “there are still good pieces left” in the broader immigration bill, like a path to citizenship for many of the immigrants who are in the country illegally.
“The question we have to ask ourselves is, can we live with this as it is and continue our work to make other changes down the road?” she said. “I’d rather be at the table fighting than say we’re going to stop this now.”
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