The Gang of Eight vs. the Gang of Nay

By Clarissa Martinez de Castro, Director, Civic Engagement and Immigration, NCLR

MartinezdeCastro_uploadThis week, Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) wrote an op-ed for Politico on why he is voting no on the Senate “Gang of Eight” bill.  Sen. Paul is one of a group of senators who profess to want immigration reform yet never managed to support anything close to it.  With his new rationale, he joins the “Gang of Nay,” the hard-core opponents of reform, including Senators Sessions (R-Ala.), Cornyn (R-Texas), Cruz (R-Texas), and Vitter (R-La.), all of whom contend that there isn’t enough in the bill to secure the border.

Not enough?  Someone who has not followed the immigration issue would believe this was all being done because our country has ignored border enforcement.  And to hear the border-obsessed senators talk, you would think that they are the first people to come up with the idea of doing something about the border.  There’s just one problem with this line of thinking:  it flies completely in the face of the facts.

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Namely, that our immigration policy has been enforcement-first, if not enforcement-only, for the last two decades.  According to the Migration Policy Institute, the country has poured nearly $200 billion into immigration enforcement since the late 1980s, 15 times more than we were spending in 1987.  The Obama administration has obliterated any previous administration’s record on deportations.  And, as the Pew Hispanic Center has reported, Mexican migration has plummeted for the last five years, and migration from Mexico into the United States has now reached net zero, largely due to economic conditions in both countries.

Photo: Talk Radio News Service
Photo: Talk Radio News Service

Even in light of those facts, border hysteria continues to be the default position of many Senators and led to the Corker-Hoeven amendment.  Passed Monday, this provision will result in a literal doubling the number of border patrol agents and adding hundreds of miles of new fencing along the southern border.  This is on top of the already extensive additional funding—somewhere in the neighborhood of $6 billion—that was in the original bill.  As Senator Lindsey Graham said of this amendment, “What we’re trying to do is put in place measures that to any reasonable person would be an overwhelming effort to secure our border short of shooting everybody that comes across the border.”  Border and law enforcement experts have described this amendment in one word:  overkill.  And that is before tallying the detrimental effects it stands to have on the lives of U.S. citizens and immigrants who live in the border region.

All in for CitizenshipWe supported moving forward with this measure, even though we agree that it’s wildly excessive, because we need to get to some real solutions, and the bill has a good deal of those.  There is a reason why we are having this debate on comprehensive immigration reform—our enforcement-only approach has failed to fully fix the problem.  From all accounts we know and from all corners we have heard, a balanced, mutually reinforcing approach is the only way to get our immigration system on a legal footing.  The way you restore the rule of law is to have a legal immigration system that takes the legitimate traffic out of the black market, allows immigrants to come with visas rather than with smugglers, and allows immigrants who are working and raising families in the United States to come forward, go through criminal background checks, and get in the system and on the books. These measures would boost the effectiveness of immigration enforcement, the only prescription we’ve had to date.

It’s truth time.  There is just no credible way to argue that not enough is being done on the border.  There is no way to continue arguing you are pro-reform, even pro-security, and continue to vote for a status quo that undermines it, serves no one, and harms all too many.

So we have another theory about these senators—their border talk is just a cover for the fact that they don’t want real immigration reform, and they really don’t want it if it includes a path to citizenship—which, let’s face it, is already long, harsh, and perilous.  In short, these would-be supporters of reform are anything but.  Latino voters can read between the lines. And even if we don’t agree with their position, we would appreciate a little honesty.

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