Sunday, May 15, 2011

The town on the wrong side of America's drugs war

The Independant
May 16, 2011
by Guy Adams

Like many a proud Texan, Pamela Taylor likes to mark her turf. So on any given day, she makes sure passers-by can see the Stars and Stripes and the Lone Star Flag of her native state fluttering atop the poles that stand in her front garden.

Ms Taylor has lived in the southern-most city of Brownsville, Texas, since just after the Second World War, when she left the UK to join her late husband John, a US soldier who had been based near Birmingham. With that in mind, she also flies a Union Jack. "I hang it lower than the American flags," she says, "because it's a smaller part of my heritage."

Lately, though, there's been a distinctly surreal flavour to Ms Taylor's colourful display of patriotic identity. About 350 metres from her porch, an imposing metal fence looms into view. It is supposed to divide the US from Mexico, but by a cruel twist of fate, the 83-year-old grandmother's family home has ended up on the "wrong" side. Four years ago, amid the seemingly endless hand-wringing over the flow of drugs and illegal migrants across their southern border, Washington politicians voted to erect a tall fence that would stretch thousands of miles from San Diego, on the Pacific coast, to Brownsville, on the Gulf of Mexico. The best-laid political schemes do not always work out as planned, though. When government engineers arrived in Ms Taylor's neighbourhood, their plan hit a snag: the Mexican border follows the meandering Rio Grande in this area. And the river's muddy banks are too soft and too prone to flooding to support a fence.

As a result, this corner of south-eastern Texas had its barrier constructed on a levee that follows a straight line from half a mile to two miles north of the river, leaving Ms Taylor's bungalow – along with the homes and land of dozens of her angry neighbours – marooned on the Mexican side. "My son-in-law likes to say that we live in a gated community," she says, explaining that to even visit the shops she must pass through a gate watched over by border-patrol officers. "We're in a sort of no man's land. I try to laugh, but it's hard: that fence hasn't just spoiled our view, it's spoiled our lives."

Ms Taylor's domestic situation demonstrates – despite sound bites from politicians (Barack Obama last week gave a major speech on the issue) – there are no simple fixes to America's great immigration debate.

In total, roughly 50,000 acres of sovereign US land is now on the wrong side of the fence, most of it in Texas. Lawmakers believe that is a fair price to pay for the political benefits of being seen as "tough" on immigration.

But to many locals, Ms Taylor included, the headline-prone barrier – which cost $7m a mile (£4.3m) – is an expensive white elephant.

"First of all, it doesn't work," she says. "Anyone with a rope and a bucket can just climb on over. Second, they've used it as an excuse to reduce border patrols. Thirdly, it's left people like me unprotected. While the officers are guarding the fence, any drug smugglers can just walk up to my front door."

Like many of her neighbours, Ms Taylor has been forced to turn her home into a mini-fortress, with alarms and motion sensors and a small arsenal of firearms in strategic positions around the house. "We're never safe," she says. "You just try to avoid living in fear."

It was not always like this. For most of the almost 70 years she has lived there, Brownsville has been on the frontline of America's immigration debate. But in the old days, things were less confrontational. Families heading north from Mexico would camp overnight in surrounding cotton fields. "We'd wake up in the morning, and the migrant workers would have built a fire and made tortillas," Ms Taylor says. "On occasion, they'd bring me breakfast."

Ms Taylor once found a woman on her porch in the process of giving birth (she called an ambulance and helped care for the woman until help arrived). Another time, she found an exhausted Hispanic man asleep in her armchair (he apologised, saying he had decided to use her bathroom to shave and brush his teeth).

But from the mid-1990s, with the growth of Mexico's drug trade, security declined. Ms Taylor's car was stolen several times. One morning, she found a package containing 50lbs of marijuana in her flowerbed. "I turned it in to the sheriff," she says. "I'm a cancer patient and when I told my doctor, he said I should have used the stuff."

Since the fence went up, crime has further spiralled. "I'm a gung-ho Texan. I've brought up four kids here and I've made this place my life. But there are times, since the barrier went up, when it hasn't felt like home."

Down the road, she has erected a protest banner. "We're part of America," it says. "We need representation and protection, not a fence."

You hear a similar sentiment across Brownsville. Roughly eight in every 10 of the city's 170,000 inhabitants are Latino and most speak Spanish as a first language. Every street corner seems to have a taco stall and the local economy relies heavily on imports from factories south of the border.

Most locals rue the divisive tone of the current immigration debate. The city's former mayor, an attorney named Eddie Trevino, who describes himself as a "very right-wing Democrat", says the furore over the fence demonstrates the extent to which the US immigration system needs a complete overhaul.

"Nobody's in favour of illegal immigration," Mr Trevino says. "Let me be unequivocal about that. We don't want anybody violating our laws.

"But the reality is that our laws are antiquated and need to be updated to make sense in the world in which we live. It made no sense to build this fence, other than making people in other parts of the country feel better and feel a false sense of safety. It's like the old joke: build a 12ft fence and you'll be having a huge demand for 15ft ladders."

Even the city's white, Republican-leaning minority is opposed to the border fence. The well-mown greens of a local golf course are on land that now sits on the "wrong" side, while fields and orchards farmed by generations of landowners have been sliced in two by the metal barrier.

"I'll say right off the bat that I'm a conservative – I believe in hard work and I believe our border needs to be secure," says Debbie Loop, whose 15-acre citrus farm is on both sides of the fence. "But when they signed this fence into law, nobody stopped to think Texas isn't Arizona or California. Our border does not run dirt to dirt. Any idiot could have told them that. My grandchildren now live on the wrong side. Who is going to protect them? Who protects me when I'm in my orchards after dusk? I just want to work hard and earn a living. But they've changed this place forever."

This week, Mr Obama signalled his intention to bring the immigration debate into play in next year's presidential elections, travelling to El Paso, on the other side of Texas from Brownsville, to unveil plans to create a "path to citizenship" for the roughly 12 million undocumented workers thought to be living illegally in the US.

With his speech – aimed to court the growing Latino demographic that now numbers about 50 million people – he entered into electoral-campaign mode. Mr Obama emphasised that his administration has deported more immigrants than that of any of its predecessors. And he ridiculed Republican lawmakers who have endorsed building ever-larger barriers along the border.

"Now they're going to say that we need to quadruple the border patrol," Mr Obama said, reaching out to the large and growing demographic of Latino voters.

"Or they'll want a higher fence. Maybe they'll say we need a moat. Maybe they'll want alligators in the moat. They'll never be satisfied."

The joke might have played well in the next day's news pages – but in Brownsville, they were not laughing.

"Let him come here and say that," was Ms Loop's response.

"Round these parts, people like alligators a whole lot more than politicians."

Obama mimics Bush on the border fence

May 14, 2011
by Justin Elliott

President Obama traveled to El Paso, Texas, this week and delivered an immigration speech that was widely viewed as an appeal to Hispanic voters.

While there's virtually no prospect of comprehensive immigration reform getting through the current Congress, the Obama administration has been emphasizing enforcement and border security. One under-examined aspect of the administration's policy is the continuation of Clinton- and Bush-era efforts to build a physical -- and virtual -- fence along the U.S.-Mexico border. In El Paso, Obama actually touted the fact that his administration had completed the fence. So we thought it was a good time to check in on the status of the fence, whether it's working, and what's planned for the future.

Billions of dollars have been spent in recent years on a physical wall and the so-called virtual fence, and the efforts have been criticized by some who live on the border on human rights and environmental grounds.

Lee Maril, professor of sociology at East Carolina University, recently published "The Fence," a study of U.S. policy on the border going back to the Clinton administration. Obama, Maril told me in an interview this week, has largely followed the policy conceptions of the Bush administration when it comes to the border fence. The administration is poised to plunk down hundreds of millions of dollars on high-tech sensors and the like, in the latest costly iteration of the virtual fence. What follows is a transcript of our conversation edited for length and clarity.

I think a lot of people assume there already is a fence or wall along the entire U.S.-Mexico border. What actually exists on the border right now?

Most people who haven't been to the border imagine it as sort of a straight line. But it's 2,000 miles, much of which is very rough terrain, including high-elevation areas, the Rio Grande River delta, and canyons. There are two kinds of fences that have been built. One is nuts-and-bolts, concrete and rebar. It's in pieces and covers about 650 miles of the border. The rest of the border is not covered by any fence that would stop anyone. Geography does the stopping. In places it's barbed wire, and in places there is no fence at all.

The virtual fence is the second kind of fence that is sometimes discussed. That began with ISIS ["Integrated Surveillance Intelligence System"] in 1998 and ended with a project by Boeing that was recently killed. The virtual fence is an attempt to use high technology to interdict drug loads, catch alleged terrorists, and catch undocumented immigrants. The virtual fence never worked. It didn't work when it was started in 1998 under the Clinton administration, and the company that originally worked on it, L-3 Communications, wasted about $250 million. It didn't work under Boeing either. They walked away with about $1 billion.

How was the virtual fence supposed to work?

It started under the Clinton administration as an attempt to build a sophisticated system of towers that would be linked with computers, satellite up-links, surface radar, and all kinds of fancy cameras. That ran from 1998 to 2000, and it didn't work. Then the program changed names several times and wound up in 2005 being called SBInet, or Security Border Initiative network. That's when Boeing was invited on as the so-called systems integrator. They were supposed to come up with a total solution to plan, design and build the virtual fence for the entire border. They built only about ten sensor towers and fifteen communications towers, but according to the Government Accountability Office reports none of them ever worked. In my opinion they wasted more than $1 billion of taxpayer money.

Where has Obama been on this?

The original policy was clearly defined by the Bush administration and by Congress. It was formed immediately after the immigration field hearings in the summer of 2006. The virtual and physical fences had three justifications under the Bush administration, which were then carried on into the Obama administration. The goals were to decrease the number of undocumented workers, to increase the drug interdictions, and to stop alleged terrorists. They were never refuted by Obama. That plan was wholeheartedly accepted by the Obama administration. Under Obama we saw the completion of the project to build about 650 miles of physical wall that had been funded by Congress. When I heard Obama's speech in El Paso, what I saw missing was any kind of admittance that the virtual fence was a miserable failure and the taxpayers had lost all this money.

You spent a lot of time on the border, looking at the fence and interviewing residents and border agents. What did you hear?

They tell you a variety of things depending on who you talk to. I can tell you that the concrete fence is not consistent. I went to Cameron County, Texas, where Brownsville is, and there the fence is 20 feet tall with a 5-foot base that goes 8 feet into the ground, with spaced steel bars at the top. Then I went to the University of Texas at Brownsville, and because they litigated against the Department of Homeland Security, they have a fence that is about 9 feet tall, chain link, painted green, and surrounded by shrubbery. That runs for half a mile. What that tells me is that regardless of what DHS wanted to do, it was always buffered by the local political situation.

So after Obama's speech, are you expecting an extension of the fence?

They just let out bids for $750 million, just for Arizona, to basically do what they said they were going to do with the last virtual wall -- for the same kinds of equipment, including sensors, scope trucks, plus some newer hardware. It’s called the Alternative Southwest Border Technology Plan. I wouldn’t call it a "Plan," I’d call it an approach. What I've heard unofficially is that one of the primary contractors who is very interested is Raytheon. So even more money, another $750 million, has now been put into it and already been bid out and the public has not yet been notified of who is getting the bid. It's very unclear if this equipment is going to be used as part of a virtual wall, or as extra equipment to supplement the concrete wall. This is just for Arizona. What DHS is really saying is that after eleven years, they still haven’t gotten it right.

Has the fence worked?

There are three points. The first is that it has not in any way I can clearly see -- based on the border patrol's own statistics -- limited the amount of drugs coming into this country. Obama is correct when he cites the statistic that there have been a third more drugs caught this year than last. But the drug cartels are just taking that as overhead. They're still bringing in and getting across the same amount of drugs. My informants in law enforcement tell me the best way to assess the volume of drugs is the price on the street. The price on the street suggests there has been no change with respect to cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine. The traffickers have become very innovative in finding ways to cross the wall which at first looks impenetrable. That includes catapults, tunnels and metal ramps that they assemble and disassemble very quickly.

Second, the fence certainly has seemed to affect the number of undocumented workers. It's much harder to cross the border than it used to be because of the fence, and the increase in border agents. There is no question in that. That said, we're in the middle of a recession, so it's very difficult to see what will happen when we come out of the recession when it comes to the economic "pull" factors. We still have a very large number of people in Mexico and south of Mexico who can directly benefit by coming across illegally because they don't have a lot of other options.

The third part -- which Obama didn't mention in El Paso and has been forgotten in this whole discussion -- is terrorism. I can find no known public record of any terrorist ever being stopped since 2005-06 when construction of the wall began. That was one of the three major reasons that the wall was built. What my law enforcement informants tell me is that a terrorist group would be foolish to risk bringing someone in from Mexico when they can come in from so many other places with false documents.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Remarks by the President on Comprehensive Immigration Reform in El Paso, Texas

White House Transcript
May 10, 2011

1:21 P.M. MDT

THE PRESIDENT: Hello, El Paso! (Applause.) Well, it is wonderful -- wonderful to be back with all of you in the Lone Star State. (Applause.) Everything is bigger in Texas. (Applause.)


THE PRESIDENT: I love you back! (Applause.) Even the welcomes are bigger. (Applause.) So, in appreciation, I wanted to give a big policy speech outside on a really hot day. (Laughter.) Those of you who are still wearing your jackets, feel free to take them off. I hope everybody is wearing sunscreen.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: We live here.

THE PRESIDENT: You say you live here? You don’t need it, huh? (Laughter.) Well, it is a great honor to be here. And I want to express my appreciation to all of you for taking the time to come out today.


THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. I appreciate it. Thank you. (Applause.)

You know, about a week ago, I delivered a commencement address at Miami Dade Community College, which is one of the most diverse schools in the nation. The graduates were proud that their class could claim heritage from 181 countries around the world -- 181 countries. (Applause.)

Many of the students were immigrants themselves, coming to America with little more than the dream of their parents and the clothes on their back. A handful had discovered only in adolescence or adulthood that they were undocumented. But they worked hard and they gave it their all, and so they earned those diplomas.

And at the ceremony, 181 flags -- one for every nation that was represented -- was marched across the stage. And each one was applauded by the graduates and the relatives with ties to those countries. So when the Haitian flag went by, all the Haitian kids -- Haitian American kids shouted out. And when the Guatemalan flag went by, all the kids of Guatemalan heritage shouted out. And when the Ukrainian flag went by, I think one kid shouted out. (Laughter.) This was down in Miami. (Laughter.) If it had been in Chicago, there would have been more.

But then, the last flag, the American flag, came into view. And everyone in the room erupted in applause. Everybody cheered. (Applause.) So, yes, their parents and grandparents -- some of the graduates themselves -- had come from every corner of the globe. But it was here that they had found opportunity. It was here that they had a chance to contribute to the nation that is their home.

And it was a reminder of a simple idea, as old as America itself: E pluribus unum. Out of many, one. We define ourselves as a nation of immigrants -- a nation that welcomes those willing to embrace America’s ideals and America’s precepts. That’s why millions of people, ancestors to most of us, braved hardship and great risk to come here -- so they could be free to work and worship and start a business and live their lives in peace and prosperity. The Asian immigrants who made their way to California’s Angel Island. The German and Scandinavians who settled across the Midwest. The waves of Irish, and Italian, and Polish, and Russian, and Jewish immigrants who leaned against the railing to catch their first glimpse of the Statue of Liberty.

This flow of immigrants has helped make this country stronger and more prosperous. (Applause.) We can point to the genius of Einstein, the designs of I. M. Pei, the stories of Isaac Asimov, the entire industries that were forged by Andrew Carnegie.

And then when I think about immigration I think about the naturalization ceremonies that we’ve held at the White House for members of our military. Nothing could be more inspiring. Even though they were not yet citizens when they joined our military, these men and women signed up to serve.

We did one event at the White House and a young man named Granger Michael from Papua New Guinea, a Marine who had been deployed to Iraq three times, was there. And you know what he said about becoming an American citizen? He said, “I might as well. I love this country already.” That’s all he said. Marines aren’t big on speeches. (Laughter.)

Another was a woman named Perla Ramos who was born and raised in Mexico and came to the United States shortly after 9/11, and joined the Navy. And she said, “I take pride in our flag and the history we write day by day.”

That’s the promise of this country -- that anyone can write the next chapter in our story. It doesn’t matter where you come from -- (applause) -- it doesn’t matter where you come from; it doesn’t matter what you look like; it doesn’t matter what faith you worship. What matters is that you believe in the ideals on which we were founded; that you believe that all of us are created equal, endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights. (Applause.) All of us deserve our freedoms and our pursuit of happiness. In embracing America, you can become American. That is what makes this country great. That enriches all of us.

And yet, at the same time, we’re here at the border today -- (applause) -- we’re here at the border because we also recognize that being a nation of laws goes hand in hand with being a nation of immigrants. This, too, is our heritage. This, too, is important. And the truth is, we’ve often wrestled with the politics of who is and who isn’t allowed to come into this country. This debate is not new.

At times, there has been fear and resentment directed towards newcomers, especially in hard economic times. And because these issues touch deeply on what we believe, touch deeply on our convictions -- about who we are as a people, about what it means to be an American -- these debates often elicit strong emotions.

That’s one reason it’s been so difficult to reform our broken immigration system. When an issue is this complex, when it raises such strong feelings, it’s easier for politicians to defer until the problem the next election. And there’s always a next election.

So we’ve seen a lot of blame and a lot of politics and a lot of ugly rhetoric around immigration. And we’ve seen good faith efforts from leaders of both parties -- by the way, I just noticed, those of you who have chairs, if you want to sit down, feel free. There’s no rule about having to stand when I’m --

AUDIENCE MEMBER: -- we love you! (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: But we’ve seen leaders of both parties who try to work on this issue, but then their efforts fell prey to the usual Washington games. And all the while, we’ve seen the mounting consequences of decades of inaction.

Today, there are an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants here in the United States. Some crossed the border illegally. Others avoid immigration laws by overstaying their visas. Regardless of how they came, the overwhelming majority of these folks are just trying to earn a living and provide for their families. (Applause.)

But we have to acknowledge they’ve broken the rules. They’ve cut in front of the line. And what is also true is that the presence of so many illegal immigrants makes a mockery of all those who are trying to immigrate legally.

Also, because undocumented immigrants live in the shadows, where they’re vulnerable to unscrupulous businesses that skirt taxes, and pay workers less than the minimum wage, or cut corners with health and safety laws, this puts companies who follow the rules, and Americans who rightly demand the minimum wage or overtime or just a safe place to work, it puts those businesses at a disadvantage.

Think about it. Over the past decade, even before the recession hit, middle-class families were struggling to get by as the costs went up for everything, from health care, to college tuition, to groceries, to gas. Their incomes didn’t go up with those prices. We’re seeing it again right now with gas prices.

So one way to strengthen the middle class in America is to reform the immigration system so that there is no longer a massive underground economy that exploits a cheap source of labor while depressing wages for everybody else. I want incomes for middle-class families to rise again. (Applause.) I want prosperity in this country to be widely shared. (Applause.) I want everybody to be able to reach that American dream. And that’s why immigration reform is an economic imperative. It’s an economic imperative. (Applause.)

And reform will also help to make America more competitive in the global economy. Today, we provide students from around the world with visas to get engineering and computer science degrees at our top universities. (Applause.)

But then our laws discourage them from using those skills to start a business or a new industry here in the United States. Instead of training entrepreneurs to stay here, we train them to create jobs for our competition. That makes no sense. In a global marketplace, we need all the talent we can attract, all the talent we can get to stay here to start businesses -- not just to benefit those individuals, but because their contribution will benefit all Americans.

Look at Intel, look at Google, look at Yahoo, look at eBay. All those great American companies, all the jobs they’ve created, everything that has helped us take leadership in the high-tech industry, every one of those was founded by, guess who, an immigrant. (Applause.)

So we don’t want the next Intel or the next Google to be created in China or India. We want those companies and jobs to take root here. (Applause.) Bill Gates gets this. He knows a little something about the high-tech industry. He said, “The United States will find it far more difficult to maintain its competitive edge if it excludes those who are able and willing to help us compete.”

So immigration is not just the right thing to do. It’s smart for our economy. It’s smart for our economy. (Applause.) And it’s for this reason that businesses all across America are demanding that Washington finally meet its responsibilities to solve the immigration problem. Everybody recognizes the system is broken. The question is, will we finally summon the political will to do something about it? And that’s why we’re here at the border today.

And I want to say I am joined today by an outstanding Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, who’s been working tirelessly on this issue. (Applause.) Our commissioner who’s working diligently on border issues, Alan Bersin, is there, and we appreciate him -- Bersin. (Applause.)

So they’re doing outstanding work. And in recent years, among one of the greatest impediments to reform were questions about border security. And these were legitimate concerns. What was true was a lack of manpower and a lack of resources at the border, combined with the pull of jobs and ill-considered enforcement once folks were in the country.

All this contributed to a growing number of undocumented people living in the United States. And these concerns helped unravel a bipartisan coalition that we had forged back when I was in the United States Senate. So in the years since, “borders first, borders first,” that's become the common refrain, even among those who were previously supportive of comprehensive immigration reform.

But over the last two years, thanks to the outstanding work of Janet and Alan and everybody who’s down here working at the border, we’ve answered those concerns. Under their leadership, we have strengthened border security beyond what many believed was possible. They wanted more agents at the border. Well, we now have more boots on the ground on the southwest border than at any time in our history. (Applause.)

The Border Patrol has 20,000 agents -- more than twice as many as there were in 2004. It’s a build-up that began under President Bush and that we’ve continued, and I had a chance to meet some of these outstanding agents, and actually saw some of them on horseback who looked pretty tough. (Laughter.) So we put the agents here.

Then they wanted a fence. Well, the fence is --


THE PRESIDENT: The fence is now basically complete.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Tear it down!

THE PRESIDENT: Then we’ve gone further. We tripled the number of intelligence analysts working at the border. I’ve deployed unmanned aerial vehicles to patrol the skies from Texas to California. We have forged a partnership with Mexico to fight the transnational criminal organizations that have affected both of our countries. (Applause.) And for the first time -- for the first time we’re screening 100 percent of southbound rail shipments to seize guns and money going south even as we go after drugs that are coming north. (Applause.)

So, here’s the point. I want everybody to listen carefully to this. We have gone above and beyond what was requested by the very Republicans who said they supported broader reform as long as we got serious about enforcement. All the stuff they asked for, we’ve done. But even though we’ve answered these concerns, I’ve got to say I suspect there are still going to be some who are trying to move the goal posts on us one more time.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: They’re racist!

THE PRESIDENT: You know, they said we needed to triple the Border Patrol. Or now they’re going to say we need to quadruple the Border Patrol. Or they’ll want a higher fence. Maybe they’ll need a moat. (Laughter.) Maybe they want alligators in the moat. (Laughter.) They’ll never be satisfied. And I understand that. That’s politics.

But the truth is the measures we’ve put in place are getting results. Over the past two and a half years, we’ve seized 31 percent more drugs, 75 percent more currency, 64 percent more weapons than ever before. (Applause.) And even as we have stepped up patrols, apprehensions along the border have been cut by nearly 40 percent from two years ago. That means far fewer people are attempting to cross the border illegally.

And also, despite a lot of breathless reports that have tagged places like El Paso as dangerous, violent crime in southwest border counties has dropped by a third. El Paso and other cities and towns along this border are consistently among the safest in the nation. (Applause.) Of course, we shouldn’t accept any violence or crime. And we’ve always got more work to do. But this progress is important and it’s not getting reported on.

And we’re also going beyond the border. Beyond the border, we’re going after employers who knowingly exploit people and break the law. (Applause.) And we are deporting those who are here illegally. And that’s a tough issue. It’s a source of controversy.

But I want to emphasize we’re not doing it haphazardly. We’re focusing our limited resources and people on violent offenders and people convicted of crimes -- not just families, not just folks who are just looking to scrape together an income. And as a result, we’ve increased the removal of criminals by 70 percent. (Applause.)

That’s not to ignore the real human toll of a broken immigration system. Even as we recognize that enforcing the law is necessary, we don’t relish the pain that it causes in the lives of people who are just trying to get by and get caught up in the system.

And as long as the current laws are on the books, it’s not just hardened felons who are subject to removal, but sometimes families who are just trying to earn a living, or bright, eager students, or decent people with the best of intentions. (Applause.)

And sometimes when I talk to immigration advocates, they wish I could just bypass Congress and change the law myself. But that’s not how a democracy works. What we really need to do is to keep up the fight to pass genuine, comprehensive reform. That is the ultimate solution to this problem. That's what I’m committed to doing. (Applause.)

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Yes, we can! Yes, we can!

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, we can. We can do it. (Applause.)

AUDIENCE: Yes, we can! Yes, we can! Yes, we can!

THE PRESIDENT: The most significant step we can now take to secure the borders is to fix the system as a whole so that fewer people have the incentive to enter illegally in search of work in the first place. This would allow agents to focus on the worst threats on both of our -- both sides of our borders, from drug traffickers to those who would come here to commit acts of violence or terror. That’s where our focus should be.

So, El Paso, the question is whether those in Congress who previously walked away in the name of enforcement are now ready to come back to the table and finish the work that we’ve started. (Applause.) We’ve got to put the politics aside. And if we do, I’m confident we can find common ground.

Washington is lagging behind the country on this. There is already a growing coalition of leaders across America who don’t always see eye-to-eye, but are coming together on this issue. They see the harmful consequences of a broken immigration system for their businesses and for their communities, and they understand why we need to act.

There are Democrats and Republicans, people like former Republican Senator Mel Martinez; former Bush administration Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff; leaders like Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York; evangelical ministers like Leith Anderson and Bill Hybels; police chiefs from across the nation; educators; advocates; labor unions; chambers of commerce; small business owners; Fortune 500 CEOs.

I mean, one CEO had this to say about reform: “American ingenuity is a product of the openness and diversity of this society. Immigrants have made America great as the world leader in business, in science, higher education and innovation.” You know who that leader was? Rupert Murdoch, who owns FOX News, and is an immigrant himself. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Rupert Murdoch’s views, but let’s just say he doesn’t have an Obama sticker on his car. (Laughter.) But he agrees with me on this. (Applause.)

So there is a consensus around fixing what’s broken. And now we need Congress to catch up. Now we need to come together around reform that reflects our values as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants; reform that demands that everybody take responsibility. So what would comprehensive reform look like?

First, we know that government has a threshold responsibility to secure our borders and enforce the law. And that’s what Janet and all her folks are doing. That’s what they’re doing. (Applause.)

Second, businesses have to be held accountable if they exploit undocumented workers. (Applause.)

Third, those who are here illegally, they have a responsibility as well. So they broke the law, and that means they’ve got to pay their taxes, they’ve got to pay a fine, they’ve got to learn English. And they’ve got to undergo background checks and a lengthy process before they get in line for legalization. That’s not too much to ask. (Applause.)

And fourth, stopping illegal immigration also depends on reforming our outdated system of legal immigration. (Applause.) We should make it easier for the best and the brightest to not only stay here, but also to start businesses and create jobs here. In recent years, a full 25 percent of high-tech startups in the U.S. were founded by immigrants. That led to 200,000 jobs here in America. I’m glad those jobs are here. I want to see more of them created in this country. We need to provide them the chance. (Applause.)

We need to provide our farms a legal way to hire workers that they rely on, and a path for those workers to earn legal status. (Applause.) And our laws should respect families following the rules -- reuniting them more quickly instead of splitting them apart. (Applause.)

Today, the immigration system not only tolerates those who break the rules, but it punishes folks who follow the rules. While applications -- while applicants wait for approval, for example, they’re often forbidden from visiting the United States. Even husbands and wives may have to spend years apart. Parents can’t see their children. I don’t believe the United States of America should be in the business of separating families. That’s not right. That’s not who we are. We can do better than that. (Applause.)

And we should stop punishing innocent young people for the actions of their parents. (Applause.) We should stop denying them the chance to earn an education or serve in the military. And that’s why we need to pass the DREAM Act. (Applause.) Now, we passed the DREAM Act through the House last year when Democrats were in control. But even though it received a majority of votes in the Senate, it was blocked when several Republicans who had previously supported the DREAM Act voted no.

That was a tremendous disappointment to get so close and then see politics get in the way. And as I gave that commencement at Miami Dade, it broke my heart knowing that a number of those promising, bright students -- young people who worked so hard and who speak about what’s best in America -- are at risk of facing the agony of deportation. These are kids who grew up in this country. They love this country. They know no other place to call home. The idea that we’d punish them is cruel. It makes no sense. We’re a better nation than that. (Applause.)

So we’re going to keep fighting for the DREAM Act. We’re going to keep up the fight for reform. (Applause.) And that’s where you come in. I’m going to do my part to lead a constructive and civil debate on these issues. And we’ve already had a series of meetings about this at the White House in recent weeks. We’ve got leaders here and around the country helping to move the debate forward.

But this change ultimately has to be driven by you, the American people. You’ve got to help push for comprehensive reform, and you’ve got to identify what steps we can take right now -- like the DREAM Act, like visa reform -- areas where we can find common ground among Democrats and Republicans and begin to fix what’s broken.

So I’m asking you to add your voices to this debate. You can sign up to help at We need Washington to know that there is a movement for reform that’s gathering strength from coast to coast. That’s how we’ll get this done. That’s how we can ensure that in the years ahead we are welcoming the talents of all who can contribute to this country and that we’re living up to the basic American idea that you can make it here if you try. (Applause.)

That’s the idea that gave hope to José Hernández. Is José here? Where’s -- José is right over there. (Applause.) I want you to hear -- I want you to think about this story. José’s parents were migrant farm workers. And so, growing up, he was too. He was born in California, though he could have just as easily been born on the other side of the border, if it had been a different time of year, because his family moved around with the seasons. So two of his siblings were actually born in Mexico.

So they traveled a lot, and José joined his parents picking cucumbers and strawberries. And he missed part of school when they returned to Mexico each winter. José didn’t learn English until he was 12 years old. But you know what, José was good at math and he liked math. And the nice thing is that math was the same in every school, and it’s the same in Spanish as it is in English.

So José studied, and he studied hard. And one day, he’s standing in the fields, collecting sugar beets, and he heard on a transistor radio that a man named Franklin Chang-Diaz -- a man with a surname like his -- was going to be an astronaut for NASA. So José decided -- right there in the field, he decided -- well, I could be an astronaut, too.

So José kept on studying, and he graduated high school. And he kept on studying, and he earned an engineering degree. And he kept on studying, and he earned a graduate degree. And he kept on working hard, and he ended up at a national laboratory, helping to develop a new kind of digital medical imaging system.

And a few years later, he found himself more than 100 miles above the surface of the Earth, staring out of the window of the shuttle Discovery, and he was remembering the boy in the California fields with that crazy dream that in America everything is possible. (Applause.)

Think about that, El Paso. That’s the American Dream right there. (Applause.) That's what we’re fighting for. We are fighting for every boy and every girl like José with a dream and potential that's just waiting to be tapped. We are fighting to unlock that promise, and all that holds not just for their futures, but for America’s future. That's why we’re going to get this done. And that's why I’m going to need your help.

Thank you. God bless you. And may God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)

1:56 P.M. MDT

Republicans Take Aim At Obama's Immigration Speech, Border 'Facts'

May 10, 2011

Republican response to President Obama's speech in El Paso.

Sen. Jim DeMint (R) South Carolina

"President Obama's immigration speech in El Paso today is a poor substitute for the real border security the country still desperately needs. And it was a transparent attempt to keep using illegal immigration as a campaign issue, as President Obama made no attempt to solve this problem during the two years his party held huge majorities in both houses of Congress. His own administration has not done its job to finish the border fence that is a critical part of keeping Americans safe and stopping illegal immigration.

"Rather than holding immigration summits at the White House with special interests and making speeches, President Obama should direct the members of his administration tasked with homeland security and patrolling the border to enact measures that have already been made law by Congress.

"Five years ago, legislation was passed to build a 700-mile double-layer border fence along the southwest border. This is a promise that has not been kept.

"Today, according to staff at the Department of Homeland Security, just 5 percent of the double-layer fencing is complete, only 36.3 miles.

"The Government Accountability Office (GAO), Congress's investigative arm, reported in early 2009 that only 32 miles of double-layer fencing had been built. That means under President Obama, only 4.3 miles of double layer fencing has been built. This is woefully inadequate.

"While the border-fence construction lags, Mexican cartels continue to smuggle drugs, weapons, and illegal aliens into our country, attracting violent crime.

"The United States Attorney's Annual Statistical Report for Fiscal Year 2009 stated that "violence along the border of the United States and Mexico has increased dramatically in recent years." Citing a National Drug Intelligence Center report, it continued, "Mexican drug trafficking organizations represent the greatest organized crime threat to the United States and the influence of Mexican drug trafficking organizations over domestic drug trafficking is unrivaled."

"Last month, officials in Brownsville, Texas, found a homemade, improvised explosive device on Highway 77 that resembled the bombs used against U.S. troops in the Middle East and by Mexican drug cartels.

"The government has even warned Americans not to travel in certain areas of the southwest because of crime. In June 2010, the U.S. Department of Interior posted signs near the Sonoran Desert National Monument that read, "travel not recommended," warning the public that it was considered an "active drug and human smuggling area."

"This is an embarrassment. Americans should be free to move about the country without fear of being confronted by human smugglers and drug dealers.

"Yet, alarming statistics demonstrating how dangerous our borders have become continue to pour in.

"Kumar C. Kibble, the deputy director for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the Department of Homeland Security, recently testified that more than half of the illegal aliens removed from the country last year, upwards of 195,000, were convicted criminals - the most ever removed from the country in a single year. But, even if ICE removes record numbers of illegal aliens from the country, it does little good if they are able to easily re-enter.

"Despite the clear evidence of the serious dangers that remain at our unsecured borders, the president glossed over these problems today. In his campaign-style speech, the president wrongfully proclaimed he's "answered those concerns" about border security and pushed for passage of amnesty proposals in Congress.

"Our nation's borders are fundamental to our national security and sovereignty. Americans shouldn't be forced to live under the threat of kidnappings, drug violence, and gang activity because of political posturing in Washington. Security must be at the crux of any credible immigration policy.

"A few weeks ago, celebrities like Eva Longoria of ABC's Desperate Housewives were invited to the White House to offer their advice on immigration. At another White House event, Obama chatted with AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka about immigration. Trumka is a longtime amnesty advocate, and a close political ally that the president is counting on for help in his reelection. Labor unions are losing popularity nationwide and are hoping for an influx of millions of new dues-paying members if illegal immigrants are given amnesty.

"Notably absent from those meetings was anyone advocating that the federal government keep its promise and follow the letter of the law by securing the borders and finishing the fence.

"A border fence alone will not solve the problem of illegal immigration. We must also have interior enforcement of immigration law. But, Americans view the fence as a critical first step. That's why every comprehensive immigration plan has failed so far and why Obama's speech today will likely be ignored by Congress.

"Only when the border is secure will Americans trust Washington to pass broader reforms to create an immigration system that works. They know speeches and summits won't begin to secure the border: The fence will."

Source: Sen Jim DeMint's office.

Sen. John Cornyn (R) Texas
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today (May 9) issued the following statement in advance of President Obama's immigration speech in El Paso tomorrow, May 10, 2011:

"We aren't sure what the President plans to say tomorrow, but it's highly unlikely he'll mention a recent GAO report that found only 44 percent of our southern border is secure. He probably won't echo his Director of National Intelligence who said the border poses a direct threat to our national security. And I don't expect him to bring up Secretary Clinton's comparison of the situation in Mexico to the insurgency in Colombia in the 90s.

"It's disappointing that the only time border security and immigration reform get President Obama's attention is when he is campaigning. The bottom line is that nothing President Obama says, or where he says it, can change the fact that he failed to deliver on his promise to make immigration reform a priority during his first year in office."


Sen. Cornyn has introduced legislation that would put more boots on the ground, upgrade our outdated ports of entry, crack down on smuggling, and provide our border law enforcement with the resources they desperately need.

* $2 Billion Border Security Amendment

In 2010, Sen. Cornyn introduced a deficit-neutral border security amendment to the supplemental appropriations bill that would have provided much-needed resources for federal, state, and local law enforcement officers who work along the U.S.-Mexico border. Sen. Cornyn's amendment would have dedicated $2 billion to priorities in six key areas: border security and technology, state and local law enforcement, southwest border taskforces, border enforcement personnel, detention and removal activities, and ports of entry.

* Ports of Entry Legislation

Senator Cornyn introduced the Emergency Port of Entry Personnel and Infrastructure Funding Act of 2009 (S. 2767) in November 2009. Texas Border Coalition endorsed the bill, which would have made significant infrastructure updates to our ports of entry to boost security and efficiency in trade and traffic.

Source: Sen. John Cornyn's office.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Ariz. seeks online donations to build border fence

Associated Press
May 8, 2011

PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona lawmakers want more fence along the border with Mexico — whether the federal government thinks it's necessary or not.

They've got a plan that could get a project started using online donations and prison labor. If they get enough money, all they would have to do is get cooperation from landowners and construction could begin as soon as this year.

Gov. Jan Brewer recently signed a bill that sets the state on a course that begins with launching a website to raise money for the work, said state Sen. Steve Smith, the bill's sponsor.

"We're going to build this site as fast as we can, and promote it, and market the heck out of it," said Smith, a first-term Republican senator from Maricopa.

Arizona — strapped for cash and mired in a budget crisis — is already using public donations to pay for its legal defense of the SB1070 illegal immigration law.

Part of the marketing pitch for donations could include providing certificates declaring that individual contributors "helped build the Arizona wall," Smith said. "I think it's going to be a really, really neat thing."

Construction would start "after we've raised a significant amount of money first" but possibly as soon as later this year, Smith said.

"If the website is up and there is an overwhelming response to what we've done and millions of dollars in this fund, I would see no reason why engineering or initial construction or finalized plans can't be accomplished," he said.

The nearly 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border already has about 650 miles of fence of one type or another, nearly half of it in Arizona. The state's 376-mile border is the busiest gateway for both illegal immigrants and marijuana smuggling.

Department of Homeland Security spokesman Matthew Chandler said federal officials declined to comment on the Arizona legislation.

State Corrections Director Charles Ryan said getting inmate labor to help construct border fencing wouldn't be a problem.

Minimum-security prisoners already have been used to clear brush in immigrants' hiding spots near the border and clean up trash and other material dumped by border-crossers, he said.

Work crews of Arizona inmates also have been used to refurbish public buildings, build sidewalks and construct park facilities.

At 50 cents an hour, "we are a relatively inexpensive labor force," Ryan said. "If we have the funding to do it, we're capable of doing it."

Arizona's existing border security fund is being used to pay for legal costs of defending SB1070 in court, though Brewer's 2010 executive order creating the fund allows its money to be used for any "border security purpose." A federal judge has blocked implementation of key parts of SB1070, but Brewer has said she'll take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.

The fund through Wednesday has received nearly 44,000 donations totaling more than $3.7 million, collected online and through mailed donations since May 2010. Roughly half of the money has been spent, and Brewer spokesman Matthew Benson said the balance is also needed for SB1070-related legal expenses.

Smith and other supporters of the border-fence legislation haven't produced any cost estimates for the state project, saying only that the state should be able to do it far more inexpensively than the federal government.

That still could be put the state's costs in the tens of millions of dollars — or more.

A 2009 report by Congress' Government Accountability Office said costs of federal fencing work to keep out people on foot ranged from $400,000 to $15.1 million per mile, while costs for vehicle barriers ranged from $200,000 to $1.8 million. Costs varied by such things as types of fencing geography, land costs and labor expenses, the report said.

Brewer signed the Arizona fence bill on April 28, and it will take effect with most other new state laws on July 20.

It took the bill about 2½ months to land on her desk, easily winning approval on party-line votes during a legislative session dominated by budget-balancing work

During committee hearings and floor debates, Republicans said the state has a legal and moral obligation to take action because the federal government hasn't done enough to secure the border.

"My constituents want this thing fixed and fixed once and for all, and we're going to do it," Republican Sen. Al Melvin of Tucson said during a February committee hearing. "People should not be dying in the desert."

Democrats questioned the project's feasibility and called it a feel-good distraction from pressing for more comprehensive action on border and immigration issues.

"If we are here to pass symbolic legislation and not really address border security, SB1406 does the job. But people don't benefit from symbolic legislation," Democratic Rep. Catherine Miranda of Phoenix said April 18 House vote.

Under the bill, the border fencing work could be done either in conjunction with other border states or by Arizona alone.

Smith said the committee will consider where to build the fence and what kind of fence is needed.

But the eventual choice could be like double- and triple-fence barriers already installed along the border in Yuma County in southwestern Arizona because they appear to block crossings, he said.

Any type of fence would require approval of landowners, but Smith said he expects that to be forthcoming from the state and private land owners, including ranchers who have complained of break-ins and other trouble associated with smugglers and illegal crossings.

Individual ranchers likely will cooperate with the state fencing project, just as they have done with federal officials on placing helipads, watering stations and communications equipment to help officers patrolling the border, an Arizona Cattle Growers Association official said.

However, the 1,100-member association didn't take a position on the fence bill, said Executive Director Patrick Bray.

"We certainly appreciate the efforts put into this legislation, however the funding is a huge question. It's an empty solution because we don't know where the money is going to come from."

Bray added: "We want to stay focused on the overall border security issue. At this point we are looking for a more comprehensive security approach rather than this pieces that might come to fruition."