Supporters of immigration reform in the House are running out of time. Congress will be in session eight weeks before the end of the year, and too many of those days will be wasted by the Republicans’ insistence on playing a game of chicken on the debt ceiling and the budget.
But while proponents of reform should act quickly, they should not act desperately.
They should not push a piece of legislation that will harm border communities in the rush for much-needed progress or allow piecemeal efforts to paper over the need for comprehensive reform. Legislators must listen to representatives of the borderlands to guarantee more balanced and fair reform.
To that end, the recently introduced bill by Reps. Raúl Grijalva and Filemon Vela, co-chairs of the Congressional Border Caucus, serves as an excellent starting point to integrate the concerns of caucus members to produce legislation that takes into account our region’s environmental, economic and humanitarian needs.
The Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act of 2013 is part of the caucus’ efforts not only to keep the immigration discussion alive in Congress but also to take away some of the more onerous border-security measures included in the Senate’s immigration bill.
The border-surge provision in the Senate bill includes more that $46 billion to build 700 more miles of border fencing and double the size of the Border Patrol with another 20,000 agents, among other security measures.
On this issue the House Democrats have support from Arizona’s senators. John McCain and Jeff Flake have said that while they voted for the Senate immigration bill they helped shape, they do not believe such a large-scale ramp up in border security is truly necessary or beneficial.
Not only is this section of the bill fiscally irresponsible, it would place an unneeded strain on the border region and its residents, human and wildlife alike. It would also exacerbate what is already a national tragedy — the thousands of migrant deaths in the Sonoran Desert — by pushing immigrants to cross in even more dangerous and hostile locations.
The Grijalva/Vela bill, which closely resembles the 2009 version of the bill introduced by then-U.S. Rep. Solomon Ortiz, D-Texas,does not require additional border fencing and increases the number of Customs and Border Protection officers by at least 5,000 to better staff and handle security at ports of entry, facilitating trade and the billion dollars in commerce that flows across the U.S.-Mexico border every day.
The new bill also differs on the path to legalization and citizenship, as well as the environmental impact of security measures (see box).
All of this is moot, though, if Republican leadership continues to obstruct immigration reform by preventing a vote in the House. While a bipartisan bill would be ideal, expecting one soon would be unrealistic. Grijalva and Vela’s push to keep the conversation going is a good-faith effort that should be supported.
Grijalva said the bill should serve as a rallying point for supporters on what could be achieved.
Even as these goals go on to be compromised by political reality, Border Caucus members should continue to make sure that any legislation treats our region with the respect it deserves.