Immigration advocates are preparing for the worst after the U.S. Senate
on Thursday passed an immigration reform bill that is now headed to the House of
The bill, which would double the size of the Border Patrol and extend the U.S.-Mexico border fence 700 miles, has local advocates worried about the impact new security measures would have on the human rights of immigrants. If the fence were extended farther, more immigrants would cross in more deserted and dangerous spots, leading to more deaths, advocates said.
"This is nothing to celebrate," said Fernando Garcia, executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights. "They have militarized our border while conceding the rights of the border community. This bill will only offer more violations of human rights and lead to more deaths. This bill does not represent border communities any longer."
The immigration reform bill, passed by the Senate in a 68-32 bipartisan vote, would offer a 13-year path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants, but it would come with a major increase in border security.
"I'm pleased we are making progress in immigration reform, but I'm deeply disappointed in the amendment that will waste up to $50 billion and achieve none of its goals," said U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-El Paso. "It's $50 billion to double the size of the Border Patrol and extend the border fence 700 miles, after a year when northbound crossings are at a record
The extension of the border fence also has O'Rourke worried about the impact it would have on people crossing the border.
"Extending the fence will not have the impact (bill proponents) think it will," O'Rourke said. "People crossing the border will just move to more remote and dangerous areas leading to more migrant deaths. More than 5,000 fellow human beings have died in the past year. We need to find a better solution."
The bill is not a solution to immigration reform because it is not focusing on the entire picture, said Victor Manjarrez, associate director of the University of Texas at El Paso's National Center for Border Security and Immigration.
"The passing of this bill is a little disappointing," Manjarrez said. "This bill doesn't take a whole government response to the issue at hand. This is not just a border issue. This is a whole United States issue, and we are not taking a very smart stance on it right now."
While many advocates and politicians do not approve of the increased border security included in the bill, they believe the bill is a historic step for immigration reform.
"It is a great step forward and shows that bipartisan people can come together," said U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine. "To me, it is not the way I would have liked to have had it done. It is too heavy on border militarization. We need to increase trade and commerce between Texas and Mexico, not increase border security."
The increase in security is something that had to happen to get the path to citizenship passed in the bill, Gallego said.
"It is ironic that it takes a bigger fence to reunite a family. But if that is the price we have to pay to reunite families, then that is the price we will pay," Gallego said.
Although the bill has passed the Senate, it has a very long and tough road to get through the House.
"It will have a very rocky road in the House. We will see if it will even pass the House," Gallego said. "It will be very difficult, but I look forward to voting for a bill that includes a path to citizenship."
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