Activists and community leaders called on President Barack Obama and Congress to take out "enforcement first" approaches to the immigration reform debate, which is expected to be back in the spotlight in 2013.
Instead, on Monday they demanded "humane" immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship, reunification of immigrant families and protection of immigrant workers' rights.
"Enough is enough," said the executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights, Fernando Garcia, during a news conference held on the 64th annual International Human Rights Day. "We already have in place harsh immigration enforcement policies, a border wall and thousands of Border Patrol agents. We don't need more of that. What we need is humane immigration reform."
The Border Network for Human Rights has worked for the last decade with legislators to draft a piece of legislation to reform immigration laws.
Garcia said that Democrat and Republican legislators are expected to introduce an immigration reform draft the last week of January in the House of Representatives as well as in the Senate. A new immigration reform could be accomplished as early as October or November of 2013, he added.
Although it is good news for the immigrant community, the debate is likely to come with some conditions as a trade-off for the legalization of undocumented immigrants living and working in the United States, he said.
Those conditions include having more
boots on the ground, infrastructure and technology to seal the border.
According to the Border Network current immigration policies have resulted in about 10,000 deaths of immigrants along the Mexican and U.S. border since 1993, including 17 fatal shootings that involved Border Patrol agents in the last two years.
They have also resulted in the deportation of hundreds of thousands of immigrants, legal and undocumented, during the first term of the Obama administration. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, deportations reached record levels by the end of December 2011, rising to an annual average of nearly 400,000 since 2009, about 30 percent higher than the annual average during the second term of the George W. Bush administration.
Current immigration policies have also made immigrants hesitate to report crimes to police for fear of being deported, the director of the Paso Del Norte Civil Rights Project, Jed Untereker, said.
He added that El Paso and other border communities are more affected by enforcement-fist immigration policies.
"We see more violations of civil rights and excessive force by law enforcement," he said.
Activists and community leaders, who conducted a vigil Monday afternoon at the border fence in Downtown after the press conference, said existing immigration enforcement should be changed to be smarter and more accountable.
They also said resources should be redirected to the ports of entry to improve infrastructure and add more customs officers to expedite legal border crossings.
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