Immigration reform is one thing. Militarizing the border with Mexico is another. In yet another example of dysfunctional government, the Senate has passed an immigration reform bill that rightfully provides a path to legal status for some 11 million people in this country. But the price of gaining Republican support is really providing a cover for Republicans who have watched as Latinos desert a party they view as anti-immigrant. By backing reform measures while tacking on border security provisions and costs that could kill the entire bill, these congressional Republicans figure they can hoodwink Latino voters and still get what they want -- although we're unsure of exactly what that is.
In any case, what's truly absurd here is that the U.S.-Mexico border is already more secure than it has been for many years. According to the federal government, the number of illegal entrants into this country dropped from 1.1 million in 2005 to 365,000 in each of the past two years. These figures are a 40-year low. In addition, the government says the number of people who evaded capture while trying to cross illegally at the nine major border crossing points between El Paso, Texas, and San Diego fell by 86 percent between 2006 and 2011.
Granted, some of these huge declines are because the U.S. economy has been in the dumper since 2008. But the drop also is due to ramping up border security over the past two decades -- in terms of spending, up more than 50 percent over the past decade for fencing, surveillance equipment and detention center, and more border patrol agents. Still, the clarion cry of a country under siege from a tidal wave of illegal immigrants is a canard.
The Senate bill that moves to the Republican-controlled House would not only add huge costs to the overall tab, but also creates a series of measures that would be used to track down immigrants who overstay their visas in this country -- including more raids on employers and an E-verify system required to verify the immigration status of workers. The bill also provides for 20,000 new Border Patrol agents, doubling the overall force; requires the completion of 700 miles of fencing; and requires an array of high-tech devices to be deployed to secure the border with Mexico, including the use of unmanned aerial drones to track illegal crossings. Other provisions expand the number of green cards for highly skilled workers needed for the tech industry, along with a new guest worker program for lower-skilled workers, mainly in the hospitality and construction industries, and farmworkers. But many ag industry employers are saying the visa quotas are inadequate.
Instead of creating a more humane system that would allow for economic growth government economists predict if immigrants are allowed to work and pay taxes in this country, the focus has shifted to spending $30 billion to create a virtual police state along the border.
-- Santa Cruz Sentinel