Besides roughly doubling the size of the Border Patrol from 20,000 to 40,000 agents, Hoeven-Corker, named after its Republican sponsors, would add 700 miles of border fencing, increase drone and high-tech surveillance and require Department of Homeland security certifications, among other measures, all to the tune of at least $46 billion during the next decade.
As was predicted, the procedural vote on moving forward the Hoeven-Corker amendment to the U.S. Senate’s immigration reform bill passed by a hefty majority (67-27) on Monday, June 24, paving the way for final approval of the legislation.
“I repeat, we will complete this project before the (July 4) recess,” Senate Majority leader Harry Reid vowed in the run-up to this week’s vote.
But the 1,119 page amendment, which doubles the size of the U.S. Border Patrol and enacts other security measures, was widely assailed by local elected officials, immigrant and human rights activists and business leaders as an intrusive and harmful militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border.
Besides roughly doubling the size of the Border Patrol from 20,000 to 40,000 agents, Hoeven-Corker, named after its Republican sponsors, would add 700 miles of border fencing, increase drone and high-tech surveillance and require Department of Homeland security certifications, among other measures, all to the tune of at least $46 billion during the next decade. Some reports noted that Hoeven-Corker means there will be 12 Border Patrol agents for each kilometer of the U.S.-Mexico border.
The Immigration Coalition of New York characterized the amendment as an “unprecedented militarization” that translates into a “boom for defense contractors.”
Supporters of the measure, however, quickly praised the Senate action as the right step in national security policy. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) said the introduction of new security technology will result in an unprecedented, all-encompassing surveillance capability.
“We will have eyes in the sky, whether they are drones or planes,” Schumer said. “Any one who crosses the border will be detected, whether it is day or night, sunny or rainy.”
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer was also supportive of the June 24 vote, judging it as a victory for her state in terms of “reinforcing the border.”
Added Schumer, “Nobody can dispute that the border becomes virtually airtight.”
Many border leaders paint a far different picture of their communities than the image projected in Washington of an-out-of-control southern border in dire need of sealing and plugging.
Hoeven-Corker opponents stress the high public safety rankings for cities such as El Paso and San Diego, the dramatic drop in unauthorized immigration and the deep cultural and economic ties between U.S. and Mexican communities.
They argue that instead of more helicopters and foot patrols, what the border really needs is sufficient personnel to unclog the frequently backed-up ports of entry where people sometimes wait hours to cross, which in the triple digit temperatures that have recently scorched places like the Paso del Norte region could prove deadly.
John Cook, who finished his term in office as mayor of El Paso on June 24, called on Washington to take into account the Mexico trade and invest in ports of entry.
“The proposal to double Border Patrol ranks to more than 44,000 over the next 10 years represents a massive and unnecessary expansion,” Cook said in one of his last public statements before handing over the reigns of power to Oscar Leeser.
“Likewise, the proposal to double the border fencing is short sighted and misses our real needs… I ask that in the future, senators consult with border cities to get realistic opinions about what is needed to secure our borders without compromising the importance of commerce and trade.”
In a similar vein, San Diego City Councilman David Alvarez criticized the planned security expansion for ignoring the voice of border communities.
“Overhauling the nation’s immigration laws is necessary, but this should not be done without proper consultation with those communities who will have to live with the effects of poorly thought-out policy,” Alvarez said in a statement distributed by the Campaign for an Accountable, Moral, and Balanced Immigration Overhaul (CAMBIO).
A growing number of non-governmental organizations are speaking out against Hoeven-Corker. Together with its allies, the El Paso and New Mexico-based Border Network for Human Rights slammed the Senate amendment for its potential of violating the human rights of border residents while providing no independent accountability and oversight of a vastly expanded security apparatus.
In a statement released on the eve of the Senate vote, the Border Network was joined by the ACLU’s New Mexico Regional Center for Border Rights, the Southern Border Communities Coalition and the Northern Borders Coalition in laying out criticisms of the border security amendment.
“The Hoeven-Corker proposal to increase the number of Border Patrol, add additional fencing, and spend trillions in technology is expensive, extreme and wasteful, particularly at a time when we need to improve our schools, fix our roads, and grow our economy,” the groups said.
After the procedural vote on the amendment passed, CAMBIO members warned that Hoeven-Corker could sabotage the broader immigration reform process. The Border Network’s Fernando Garcia even called the amendment “a game-changer” for the border region and beyond.
“This is too high a price to pay in pursuit of a compromise not only for border communities, but for the entire country,” Garcia said. “CAMBIO and its allies will continue to fight and leverage the full weight of our communities on Congress to pass a final bill that reflects American values. The millions of Americans impacted by unfair and arbitrary punitive measures, as exacerbated in the Corker-Hoeven Amendment, need to be heard.”
For their part, Republicans remained divided on Hoeven-Corker as well as a broader immigration overhaul that would lead to a path for citizenship for millions of undocumented residents. Tea Party factions continue opposing the legislation as an “amnesty” for lawbreakers, despite the stringent security provisions now attached to the Senate bill.
In a twist on the hot-button amnesty theme, pro-reform Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida maintains that continuation of the status quo is in essence a “de-facto amnesty.” Rubio’s argument is getting airplay in ads bankrolled by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which favors the expanded guest-worker programs of the current immigration reform legislation.
Rubio’s Republican colleague, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, agreed with the prevailing wisdom that the immigration reform legislation would pass the Senate but pronounced it “dead on arrival” in the House. “The House is much closer to me, and I think they think border security has to come first before you get immigration reform,” Paul said on national television last weekend.
In the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juárez, meanwhile, business leaders voiced concern that the new border security aspects of immigration reform would only further complicate and worsen cross-border commercial and family relationships already severely strained by the successive calamities of 9/11, the Great Recession and the Great Violence.
“This is very hard, your stress goes up, your labor costs,” said Cristina Cunningham Hidalgo, local president of the National Chamber of the Restaurant and Food Industry. “It’s very difficult. Every time (the U.S.) closes itself off more, it goes badly for us.”
Additional sources: NPR, June 24 and 25, 2013. La Jornada/AFP, June 24, 2013. El Paso Times/Associated Press, June 24, 2013. El Diario de Juarez, June 23, 2013. Article by Francisco Alarcon. El Diario de Juarez, June 23, 2013. Article by Martin Coronado and Angelica Villegas. Laopinion.com, June 21, 2013. Somos Frontera/Associated Press (El Paso Times), June 18, 2013.
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Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico