Senate Bill Creates Path for Undocumented Immigrants, But at Cost of Radically Militarized Border

Democracy Now*

The US Mexican Border is to become considerably more militarized than it already was.
The US Mexican Border is to become considerably more militarized than it already was.

HAVANA TIMES – The US Senate has approved a long-awaited immigration reform bill that creates a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants while imposing unprecedented new measures for border security. It would spend $46 billion to nearly double the number of border agents to 40,000, expand the use of drones, and construct around 700 miles of border fencing.

Republicans introduced the border amendment in a bid to win their colleagues’ support, prompting criticism from a number of immigrant rights groups who say the added “security” requirements are so extreme they undermine the bill overall.

We’re joined by two guests: Lorella Praeli, director of advocacy and policy at the United We DREAM Coalition; and Fernando Garcia, founding director of the Border Network for Human Rights. Garcia was arrested earlier this week outside the Democrats’ headquarters in Dallas to protest the party’s approval of increased border militarization.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: On Thursday, the Senate passed a long-awaited but controversial immigration reform bill that creates a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants while also adding unprecedented new border security measures. Cheers erupted in the Senate gallery after Vice President Joe Biden read the vote tally.

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: The yeas on this bill are 68, the nays are 32. The bill, as amended, is passed. Now, the clerk will call the roll.

CLERK: Mr. Alexander.

SENATE GALLERY: Yes, we can! Yes, we can! Yes, we can! Yes, we can!

AMY GOODMAN: Fourteen Republicans joined a united Democratic caucus in supporting the bill, which is backed by the White House and could become one of the major legislative achievements of President Obama’s second term. Among the Republicans who voted yes was Senator John McCain of Arizona.

SEN. JOHN McCAIN: These are people who wanted to come to this country not because they wanted to do anything, but realize the American dream. That’s what they want. That’s what they risked their lives, and in fact gave their lives, for. And, yes, they did so illegally, and they’re willing to pay a penalty for crossing our border illegally. But shouldn’t we give them the same chance that we’ve given generation after generation of immigrants who have come to this country, wave after wave of Irish and Italians and Jews and Poles, and now people from all over the world? Shouldn’t we do that? Isn’t it in us to bring 11 million people out of the shadows, that are now being exploited and have none of the protections of citizenship?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Among the Democrats who spoke just before the comprehensive immigration reform bill’s passage was Senator Bob Menendez. He was a member of the bipartisan Gang of Eight senators that crafted the measure.

SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ: I come here thinking of what this bill will mean for families, and come here thinking of my family, of my mother, who came from Cuba, worked hard and made it possible for me to stand here today, one of 100 United States senators on the verge of passing an historic piece of legislation that she would have wanted me to vote for, a bipartisan compromise that will finally fix our broken immigration system and bring 11 million immigrants out of the shadows, and not just the millions who have been here for years without status, but the millions more who have been waiting in line to be reunified with their families lawfully. And when the moment comes to cast that vote, I’ll be casting it in memory of my mother and for every immigrant like her.

AMY GOODMAN: The Senate bill includes an amendment to the immigration reform bill that radically expands enforcement along the U.S.-Mexico border. The $46 billion measure would nearly double the number of border agents to 40,000, expand the use of drones and construct around 700 miles of border fencing. Republicans introduced it in a bid to win their colleagues’ support for the immigration bill’s broader proposal to extend an eventual path to citizenship to millions of undocumented people.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: A number of immigrant rights groups voiced concerns that the added security requirements were so extreme they undermine the bill overall. As the Senate bill was being voted on Thursday, immigration advocates on a caravan across Texas staged a die-in to protest the border militarization provisions. Six people were arrested in Austin after they shut down traffic, blocking cars with giant cardboard fences representing the border wall.

ARIELLE LEWISZAVALA: Hi, my name is Arielle Lewis-Zavala.

KAREN DIAZ MORALES: Hey, I’m Karen Diaz Morales.

ANGELA REYES: Hola, mi nombre es Angela Reyes.

ALAN GARCIA: Hey, everyone. My name is Alan Garcia.

MIGUEL MIRANDA: Mi nombre es Miguel Miranda.

ANTOLIN AGUIRRE MARTINEZ: Hi, everybody. My name is Antolin Aguirre Martinez.

ALAN GARCIA: If you’re watching this, we were arrested today in Austin, Texas.

KAREN DIAZ MORALES: The Senate just passed a bill that will turn our neighborhoods and our borders into a war zone.

ARIELLE LEWISZAVALA: This isn’t immigration reform anymore.

ALAN GARCIA: We’re standing in solidarity to end deaths on the border, to end the separation of families, and to gain the respect of human dignity.

ARIELLE LEWISZAVALA: Please support border communities.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, despite the increased border security measures added to the Senate bill, it’s unclear whether the bill can pass when it goes to the House. This is House Speaker John Boehner speaking Thursday.

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER: The House is not going to take up and vote on whatever the Senate passes. We’re going to do our own bill, through regular order, and it will be legislation that reflects the will of our majority and the will of the American people. And for any legislation, including a conference report, to pass the House, it’s going to have to be a bill that has the support of the majority of our members. Immigration reform has to be grounded in real border security.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by two guests in Washington, D.C. Lorella Praeli is director of advocacy and policy at the United We DREAM Coalition, among the cheering—those cheering the Senate vote. And in Austin, Texas, we’re joined by Fernando Garcia, founding director of Border Network for Human Rights. He was arrested earlier this week outside the Democrats’ headquarters in Dallas to protest the party’s approval of increased border militarization.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Let’s begin in Washington, D.C., to Lorella Praeli. You were there. You were cheering. Why are you supporting this bill, Lorella?

LORELLA PRAELI: We’re supporting this bill, Amy—it’s a pleasure to be back—because I think that we came into this fight understanding that this was a compromise, and that we do not necessarily support all compromises, but we were looking at whether or not this bill protected what was at the core of the compromise. And that was really to make sure that people have a pathway to citizenship, that 11 million members of our community are able to step out of the shadows and to be on that pathway. And we were looking at key parts. We were looking at the family reunification piece. We were definitely looking at the pathway to citizenship. We were looking at the DREAMer provisions. And so, at the end, we had to make a very hard calculation and a very difficult decision, especially because we have a community that’s outraged by the Hoeven-Corker deal and the kind of overdrive of border militarization. But that—that’s why we were in this. We understand that this is not a fight of only 2013, but it’s a very long fight to secure justice and dignity and respect for our communities. And so, this is kind of where we are now, and we’re definitely gearing up to continue this fight.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Fernando Garcia of the Border Network for Human Rights, this is—the cost of this bill is really astronomical. I mean, it started out as $5 billion for border security; it’s now, they’re talking, $46 billion. And, clearly, a lot of these defense companies that are losing military contracts now have a new—a new field day now in border security.

FERNANDO GARCIA: Yes, Juan and Amy. This is a historic moment, I would say, but also a very difficult moment for border communities. And I heard earlier saying that this is an increased border enforcement. Well, let me say that—let me say that that’s not necessarily the case. This is the acceptance of militarizing our border communities. It’s not just an additional few staff or additional resources; it’s a massive, massive endeavor at the border. I mean, we’re talking about doubling Border Patrol members from 20,000 to 40,000. I mean, just to put this in context, the only other border that has more than 40,000 or close to 40,000 armed soldiers in there, it is the North Korea and South Korea. So, we’re going to have one of the most militarized borders in the world. And in the case here is that you don’t have a conflict with an ally nation like Mexico. So, there is compromises, and there is compromises. This just—we believe that this compromise just threw off the balance of comprehensive immigration reform. Believe me, we have been fighting for more than 15 years for legalization, family unification. But this just went overboard. I mean, this is a very high price to pay for border communities.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Republican Senator Bob Corker describing the border security amendment he co-sponsored with Senator John Hoeven that was part of the bill that passed Thursday.

SEN. BOB CORKER: Twenty thousand Border Patrol agents. It doubles the number of Border Patrol on our southern border. We are adding $4.5 billion worth of technology that the chief of border control has been trying to get for years—bought and paid for in this bill. We are adding an entry-exit visa program that has to be fully in place. We’re adding—we’re adding E-Verify for every employer in the country. And we’re adding 350 miles of fencing. Now, people are saying, “Well, we don’t know if this will ever happen.” But you should read the triggers. If it doesn’t happen, nobody gets a green card, OK? And every American can see whether this has happened.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Lorella Praeli, respond to that, and also to the fact that this is only the Senate version. Whatever—if something comes out of the House, it’s bound to be worse than this bill that’s being passed right now by the Senate.

LORELLA PRAELI: Yes, I think I can start with the Senate proposal, Juan. What we’re—what they’re saying is—what we were really looking at really was: Is there going to be this 90 percent border apprehension rate that has—that will become a hard trigger for people to go from a registered provisional immigrant or a temporary legal status into really their green card status? And that was the amendment that Senator Cornyn had on the table. That was the amendment that many of the members of the Republican caucus wanted. And that was something that the immigrant rights community very strongly, collectively refused to accept. And I think United We DREAM and DREAMers were very clear in stating that any hard trigger would actually mean that we would actively work to reject the immigration reform proposal. And so, you know, I think that this has not fundamentally changed the structure of the trigger requirement, so that the undocumented community can have an access to the pathway to citizenship.

And I think going into—you know, the conversation is going to start to get really heated and interesting as we—as we talk about the House. I was—I wrote down what you—when you played the clip of Speaker Boehner and he said, “Our own bill will go through regular order.” And, to me, that’s very interesting because the question really is on the leadership at this point: What is the leadership of the House going to do? This is—this is kind of a big test now. The Senate has acted. It’s not the best bill. It is a bill that’s comprehensive, that has a pathway to citizenship for potentially 11 million people. And I think the GOP’s effort to rebrand themselves is going to be really a test now that we move into the House. Now, I have really serious concerns with Speaker Boehner’s comments about this bill going through regular order, especially if we look at what the House has done in the last three weeks. The Republican caucus voted to defund the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that has put—stopped the deportation of DREAMers and giving them access to a work permit. And they’ve also, you know, marked, through the House Judiciary Committee, the SAFE Act, or what we call in our community “the HATE Act,” that would be—that would ramp interior enforcement that would criminalize our communities. And so, if that is the message that the GOP in the House wants to send to the Latino community, to voters in America, to the immigrant community, I think they’re in real trouble.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Fernando Garcia, what does your group plan to do now, as this—the battle now moves to the House? And how do you see your next steps?

FERNANDO GARCIA: Let me say first that, I mean, this was a politically calculated decision that I was taking on the Senate side. And I was—and we believe that both parties are responsible of militarization of our border communities. And as this movement is moving into the House, this is only going to get—it’s going to get worse. I mean, I think we are not expecting anything better from now. It’s like—in terms of enforcement, this is going to go down. You know, I think it’s going to get worse.

You know, I believe that it’s important to say that in the border, it is not just a piece of land with nothing there. I mean, we have between six to nine million people living there—citizens, residents, and so people that are documented, that they are not being consulted, that they are not being taken into consideration. I mean, they are developing these policies that will militarize my neighborhood, my families, my cities, you know? It is—I mean, this is a game changer. I mean, the fact that this amendment was accepted in the final passage of the bill, and in the fact that this is going to go to the House, it’s going to get worse, at the end of the day we’re going to have, yes, comprehensive immigration reform, but probably it’s not the one that we were looking for. I mean, we never would like—wanted to sacrifice one community for the other, and that is what is happening right now.

So I think we’re going to clearly work to actually create mechanisms of accountability and oversight of this massive militarization. We’re going to try to actually push for legalization, for the DREAM Act and for—to access to citizenship. But we’re going to fight back on militarization. Just, we cannot afford it. And we cannot afford it as a—at the border, but we cannot this afford as a nation. I mean, what is the—what is the message that we’re sending to the rest of the world, that the only way that we can move into having immigration reform and accepting immigrants is militarizing a sector of our American communities, a piece of American soil? I think that is not the way to go.

AMY GOODMAN: Fernando Garcia and Lorella Praeli, we want to thank you very much for being with us. Fernando Garcia, with the Border Network for Human Rights, was just arrested this week in Austin with others as he protested the legislation that’s passing through Congress. Lorella Praeli, United We DREAM Coalition, speaking to us from Washington, D.C.

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