Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Senators reinforce call for tightened borders as part of immigration reform

The Guardian
January 30, 2013
by Karen McVeigh

The citizenship ambitions of an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the US could rest on a fight over the definition of what constitutes a secure border, experts predict.

Barack Obama, in a milestone speech on immigration reform on Tuesday, echoed Republicans' tough language on border enforcement. But he did not go as far as a demand by a bipartisan group of senators that the US border be declared secure before people who are in the US illegally be given a "path to citizenship".
Those senators argue that a commission be set up to rule on whether the border is secure before a single undocumented immigrant is given a chance to move towards a fully legal status. Obama's failure to endorse explicitly that demand has already raised suspicions among Republicans.

Marco Rubio, a prominent Latino senator and one of the eight who set out their own proposals a day earlier, warned the president not to ignore his party's concerns about border security. "I think that would be a terrible mistake," Rubio told Fox News. "We have a bipartisan group of senators that have agreed to that. For the president to try to move the goalposts on that specific requirement, as an example, does not bode well in terms of what his role's going to be in this or the outcome." He added: "If that's not in the bill, I won't support it." 

Senator Jeff Flake, a newly elected Republican senator for the border state of Arizona, echoed Rubio's demand for a clear statement from an independent commission on border security. "This provision is key to ensuring that border security is achieved, and is also necessary to ensure that a reform package can actually move through Congress," he said in remarks quoted by Reuters.

The question of what constitutes a secure border is likely to be be crucial in determining the success of the latest plans to reform what is widely accepted to be a "broken" immigration system.

A framework set out by the bipartisan "gang of eight" senators on Monday talks about the need to "prevent, detect and apprehend every entry". But Michelle Mittelstadt, director of communications at the Migration Policy Institute, said it would be impossible to meet that demand literally. "If it has to reach a point where there are zero illegal entrants – that is just not achievable," she said. "No police force could guarantee on an annual basis that there would be zero homicides or zero crimes of violence."

The demands for "enforcement first" stem from previous attempts at immigration reform. But despite the implicit suggestion that border security is lax, the opposite is true.

The number of border control agents has doubled in six years, and there has been a massive increase in federal spending on enforcement. Last month, a report by the Migration Policy Institute, Immigration Enforcement in the United States: The rise of a Formidable Machinery, found that the Obama administration spent $18bn on immigration enforcement last year, significantly more than its spending on all the other major federal law enforcement agencies combined.

"We've sketched a dramatic transformation of the immigration enforcement system since 1986," said Mittelstadt. She said it had reached a "level unparalleled in this country's history".

Obama noted in his speech on Tuesday that the "tide of illegal immigrants" from Mexico had been stemmed by increased border security. "We put more boots on the ground on the southern border than at any time in our history. And today, illegal crossings are down nearly 80% from their peak in 2000," he said. Obama also noted that deportations of criminals "is at its highest level ever".

But Thad Bingel, who was chief of staff, US Customs and Border Protection from 2005 to 2009, said the legacy of the last overhaul over the immigration laws, the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, had created a generation sceptical of reform without border control.

"Even although we've seen significant progress, there's a recognition from the senators that the public need to be convinced that we have not done enough. I agree with that. You need to assure people." He agreed with the senators' proposal on how to define border security. "They want to have a commission made up of attorney generals, governors and leaders of the border states, and that makes sense. The sticking part will be the membership of that commission and what its powers are."

Bingel cited a doubling of border patrol agents, from 10,000 in 2004 to 21,000 today as one of many recent improvements. There had also been a drop in the number of people apprehended for attempting to cross the border illegally, from about one million a year in 2000 to 327,000 in 2011. "That is significant progress. But the debate now is what will be an acceptable number," he said.

He said that border security has a different meaning today, pointing out that 50% of those who are in the US illegally had entered the country legally, but overstayed their visas. That posed different challenges: "You need a mix of things, including technology on the border itself, employment verification and an exit control system on land, looking at documents that can be scanned when someone leaves the country."

Bingel also said border security had become more dangerous. "It's a different battle now. Because the border had become more difficult to cross, we have seen an increase in criminal organisations using more violent tactics to defeat border security. Organisations that used to smuggle narcotics have diversified into people smuggling. You need a different set of tools."

Mittelstadt, of the Migration Policy Institute, said that the answer to the question of border security was not more enforcement but to look at where the gaps were. "More enforcement of the existing system will not yield results. There continue to be gaps and one is in employment enforcement. What is needed is to address those gaps."

Mittelstadt welcomed the framework set out by the bipartisan group of eight senators as a "significant breakthrough". But she added: "It is, however, just a framework. There remains the filling in of details between the document and the legislative text."

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Obama pushes Congress on immigration, split emerges

January 29, 2013
by Matt Spetalnick

Just over a week into his second term, President Barack Obama took his fight for immigration reform to the West on Tuesday and pushed Congress to quickly find a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented residents.
But as Obama praised a bipartisan immigration plan during a speech in Las Vegas, disagreement emerged between the White House and Republicans that underscored the difficulty of resolving an emotive issue that has long defied a legislative fix.

"I'm here today because the time has come for common-sense, comprehensive immigration reform," Obama said at a high school. "The time is now. Now is the time."

After years on the back burner, immigration reform has suddenly looked possible as Republicans, chastened by Latino voters who rejected them in the November election, appear more willing to accept a thorough overhaul.

Action on immigration was sidelined by economic issues and healthcare reform during Obama's first term but it is part of an ambitious liberal agenda the Democratic president laid out last week in his second inaugural address. That agenda also includes gun control, gay rights and fighting climate change.

Hispanic voters were crucial in winning Nevada for Obama in November and the crowd at the high school was supportive.

"Si se puede," yelled some, using a Spanish phrase that harked back to Obama's 2008 "Yes we can" campaign slogan. Some in the audience were brought to tears when he talked about the difficulties some immigrants have experienced.

In Washington, however, differences quickly emerged between what Obama would like and the proposals by the bipartisan "Gang of Eight" senators, whose plan is heavy on border security.

Obama pushed for a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants that is faster than the one the Senate group proposed.

Rather than emphasize border security first, he would let undocumented immigrants get on a path to citizenship if they first undergo national security and criminal background checks, pay penalties, learn English and get behind those foreigners seeking to immigrate legally.

"We all agree that these men and women should have to earn their way to citizenship. But for comprehensive immigration reform to work, it must be clear from the outset that there is a pathway to citizenship," he said.

For Republicans, this is a sticking point. The Gang of Eight plan envisions first taking steps to toughen security along the U.S.-Mexican border before setting in motion the steps illegal immigrants must take to gain legal status.

That difference was enough to raise concerns among Republican lawmakers who are trying to frame a package that can pass the Republican-led House of Representatives.


A Hispanic Republican, Senator Marco Rubio, complained that Obama's speech neglected border security and left the impression that "he believes reforming immigration quickly is more important than reforming immigration right."

"I am concerned by the president's unwillingness to accept significant enforcement triggers before current undocumented immigrants can apply for a green card," he said. "Without such triggers in place, enforcement systems will never be implemented and we will be back in just a few years dealing with millions of new undocumented people in our country."

Republicans will likely oppose any immigration plan that doesn't put border security first.

"This provision is key to ensuring that border security is achieved, and is also necessary to ensure that a reform package can actually move through Congress," said newly elected Senator Jeff Flake of the border state of Arizona.

In addition, Obama made no mention of creating a temporary guest worker program geared to the low-skilled, labor-intensive agricultural industry. Labor unions do not yet support such a program.

Another point of contention is expected to be whether same-sex couples are granted the same benefits as heterosexual couples under immigration reform - something the White House says Obama will insist upon but which the Senate group did not deal with.

Obama's speech in Nevada, coming a little more than a week after his second inauguration, reflects the growing clout of Hispanic voters, as does Republican willingness to move on the issue.

The president said that if Congress is unable to act in a timely fashion, he will propose immigration legislation of his own and "insist that they vote on it right away."

Immigration reform could give Obama a landmark second-term legislative achievement, but the White House is mindful that success on such a divisive issue will require a delicate balancing act.

The last major attempt at an immigration overhaul was done by Republican President George W. Bush in 2007. It collapsed in Congress. Obama did not follow through with a promise to seek an overhaul in his first term, fearing a repeat of the earlier debacle.

"We can't allow immigration reform to get bogged down in an endless debate. We've been debating this a very long time. So it's not as if we don't know technically what needs to get done," Obama said.

Republicans who saw their presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, receive only 27 percent of the Hispanic vote in the election loss to Obama are adamant that steps must be taken to draw more Hispanics to their party's ranks.

This could be a slow process to change hearts and minds.

"I don't know about voting for them (the Republicans) yet but they definitely are starting to talk about things we want to hear," said Maxima Guerrero, 22, a community college student in Phoenix. Originally from Morelos, Mexico, she was brought to the United States at age five.

In addition to dealing with Republican demands, Obama needs to watch his left flank, where unions worry about temporary workers' programs.

And the American Civil Liberties Union warned against an erosion of rights under plans to tighten the employment verification system that determines whether a worker is in the United States legally.

"While there are components of the Senate plan that provide millions of aspiring citizens the legal status they deserve to live, work, and raise their families free of fear, others, such as mandating E-Verify and continued wasteful and unnecessary spending on the border, raise serious civil liberties concerns," said Anthony D. Romero, ACLU executive director.

Want tighter border security? You’re already getting it.

Washington Post
January 29, 2013
by Suzy Khimm

Legislators have failed to pass a sweeping immigration overhaul for more than five years. But there’s one piece of the 2007 immigration reform bill that they’ve managed to accomplish: pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into border security.

Under the Senate’s new blueprint for reform, the legalization of undocumented immigrants would only happen if the government “finally commit[s] the resources needed to secure the border,” as well as strict visa enforcement for legal immigrants. It’s a provision that’s similar to Bush’s 2007 immigration bill, which also made legalization contingent on beefed-up border security.

The Senate’s language suggests that the government has held back from devoting money, equipment and personnel to border security. In fact, even though the 2007 immigration bill ultimately failed, we’ve nevertheless hit nearly all of the targets that it established for increased border security—except for achieving absolute “operational control” of the border and mandatory detention of all border-crossers who’ve been apprehended.

The 2007 bill sought to increase the number of Border Patrol agents to 20,000; in FY 2011, we hit 21,444 agents.

The 2007 bill proposed to erect 300 miles of vehicle barriers, 370 miles of fencing, 105 radar and camera towers, and four drones; by 2012, we completed 651 miles of vehicle fencing—including 352 miles of pedestrian fencing and 299 vehicle barriers—300 towers, and nine drones, according to Customs and Border Patrol.

The 2007 bill asked for the resources for Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain up to 31,500 people per day; ICE now has funding to detain up to 34,000 individuals at any time, per FY 2012 appropriations.

Finally, the 2007 bill also called for what’s known as “operational control” of the entire border, which the 2006 Secure Fence Act defined as “the prevention of all unlawful entries into the United States, including entries by terrorists, other unlawful aliens, instruments of terrorism, narcotics, and other contraband.”

Experts generally agree that “absolute” control of the border is practically impossible, so DHS has instead defined “effective” operational control as “the ability to detect, respond, and interdict illegal activity at the border or after entry into the United States,” as a Congressional Research Service report explains. By that definition, the government had 57 percent of the southern border under “effective control,” up from 31 percent in 2007, due to the new border security measures that were implemented since then. (The 2007 bill also called for mandatory federal implementation of workplace immigration enforcement measures like E-Verify; these have only been put into effect by certain states.)

Such enforcement has come with a large price tag: Last year, Congress funded Customs and Border Protection at $11.7 billion—64 percent more than FY 2006 and $262 million more than in FY 2011, despite the new climate of austerity . And that doesn’t count the $600 million that Congress provided in a separate border security bill in 2010. But the Obama administration believes that it’s also paid dividends: In 2011, apprehensions at the border were at 340,252—the lowest level since 1971—while the Obama administration has deported immigrants at a faster rate than Bush.

Pro-immigration advocates believe that all this is proof that we’ve already done enough on the border security front. “The border security issue is, at this point, 90 to 95 percent solved,” says Frank Sharry, head of America’s Voice.

Republicans, however, contest the claim that border security has improved under Obama. They point out, for instance, that the drop in apprehensions simply reflects the fact that illegal immigration itself has fallen sharply since the U.S. economy has gone into free fall. Gordon Hanson, an economist at University of California, San Diego, disputes DHS’s definition of “effective control” of the border.

“I don’t think it has much scientific merit… It’s a measure of investment. It’s not a measure of return on investment,” Hanson told Politifact. He acknowledges, however, that increased enforcement has indeed contributed to at least half the drop in illegal immigration over the last five years.

US immigration plan 'a good start': Proposal's tie to El Paso border region security questioned

El Paso Times
January 29, 2013
by Diana Washington Valdez

Community leaders and advocates in the El Paso border region said Monday that they welcome the news that U.S. lawmakers are working to adopt new immigration legislation aimed at legalizing the status of more than 11 million undocumented immigrants living in this country.   A group of U.S. senators on Monday announced their general framework for bipartisan immigration legislation. President Barack Obama plans to unveil his own proposal today in Nevada.

An estimated 11.5 million undocumented immigrants lived in the United States in 2011, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security reported last year, at least half of them in California and Texas.

The Center for Border Farm Workers in El Paso estimates that up to 30 percent of the 5,000 to 14,000 migrant workers in West Texas and Southern New Mexico are undocumented. The higher number is the most usually hired during peak harvest seasons.

U.S. Rep. Robert "Beto" O'Rourke, D-El Paso, said, "I am encouraged that it looks like Congress is finally going to address this issue. It's a good start. I am happy to see that the proposal includes a path to citizenship for 11 million people who are here in an undocumented status. I am also glad to see a fast-track plan for the Dreamers," referring to youths who were brought to the United States by undocumented parents and remain in an immigration limbo.

O'Rourke also said he believes he can use his role on the Homeland Security Committee to help propel sound immigration legislation.

He and Ruben Garcia, executive director of the Annunciation House, which assists at-risk migrants, said they challenge the notion that immigration reform must be conditioned on first assuring that the border is secure.

"I am surprised at the extent that 'securing the border' is still such a big part of the conversation, and that reform is being conditioned on making the border safe," Garcia said. "These legislators need to look at what the U.S. has done in relation to enforcement over the past 10 years. However, I am glad to see that the momentum for immigration reform is building, and I'm very happy that President Obama will speak about this (today)."

In recent years, crime statistics compiled each year by the FBI indicate that overall crime is down in U.S. cities along the border with Mexico. El Paso continues to be ranked among the safest cities for its size in the United States, despite its proximity to Juárez, Chihuahua, which experienced extraordinary levels of violence during the drug cartel wars of 2008-2012.

Eight Republican and Democrat U.S. senators released a copy of their general framework for immigration reform that includes these goals:

  • Creating a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, contingent upon securing the border and better tracking of people who are here on visas.
  • Reforming the legal immigration system, including awarding green cards to immigrants who obtain advanced degrees in science, math, technology or engineering from a U.S. university.
  • Creating an effective employment verification system to ensure that employers do not hire undocumented immigrants.
  • Allowing more low-skill workers into the country, and allowing employers to hire immigrants if they can demonstrate they were unable to recruit a U.S. citizen for the work; and establishing an agricultural worker program.

  • The senators who are expected to support these guiding principles for immigration reform are Democrats Charles Schumer of New York, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Michael Bennet of Colorado. The Republicans involved in the legislation are John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Marco Rubio of Florida and Jeff Flake of Arizona.

    "While there are still many details to be worked out, I recognize that in order to address the many facets of immigration reform, it's going to take a bipartisan commitment. Yes, 'the devil's in the details,' and not everyone is going to like everything, but sitting idly by is not a responsible approach," Flake said in a statement that covered details of the senators' proposal.

    "I have always insisted that any reform plan not include a blanket amnesty and these principles reflect that. I'm also particularly pleased that there is bipartisan support to include the input of border communities," Flake said. "Not only will security be strengthened according to Washington, D.C,. but border communities will have a say as well."

    Under the senators' proposal, the undocumented immigrants would have to pass background checks and pay fines and taxes in order to qualify for a probationary legal status that would allow them to live and work here. And they could not qualify for federal benefits, including health care, before being able to apply for permanent residency, the step toward citizenship.

    Once they are allowed to apply, they would be allowed to do so only behind everyone else who is already in line for a green card within the current immigration system.

    Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said "I am very encouraged by the bipartisan framework that has been unveiled in the Senate to modernize our broken immigration system. Reform is long overdue. The proposal contains the elements necessary to overhaul the system, including securing our borders, a roadmap to earned citizenship and employment verification to hold employers accountable.

    "I'm also pleased that it would provide further certainty for DREAMers and recognizes the importance of workforce stability within the agriculture industry. As a border state, this is good news for New Mexico," Udall said in a statement. "I look forward to reviewing the details of this legislation as it takes form and working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to give this issue the attention it deserves."

    Besides politicians and advocates, religious leaders across the United States had called on Congress to adopt immigration reform.

    In a statement, Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said, "The senators have introduced principles for a bill that has a true chance of passing. I think they sense this is a real opportunity. Not only should we be encouraged but we should understand that this is truly what St. Paul would call a 'kairos,' or propitious, moment to be seized. The momentum needs to be used to pass significant and helpful immigration reform."

    Carlos Marentes, director of the Border Farm Workers Center, which assists migrant agricultural workers in the region, and Fernando Garcia, executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights, a coalition of advocacy organizations, said they are glad to see U.S. lawmakers embark on immigration reform, but are troubled by some aspects of the senators' proposal.

    "The Border Network recognizes this as a first and very important step to address the core issue of immigration reform, which is providing a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented people living and working in the U.S.," said Garcia, who's unrelated to Ruben Garcia of the Annunciation House. "But we cannot ignore the problems within these principles. We are deeply concerned and disappointed that the senators would connect the much-needed legalization program to new border enforcement triggers and further militarization of our southern border.

    The bipartisan proposal, Garcia said, calls for the deployment of more drones (unmanned aerial vehicles), more Border Patrol agents, more infrastructure and military technology, and for national, mandatory E-Verify, which would be very close to a national ID.

    Marentes said he is concerned about the U.S. government might come up with a new "bracero-type" program for migrant farm workers that will permit employers to exploit them at will.

    "We don't know what safeguards will be extended from this legislation to farmworkers," Marentes said.

    "The new legislation, as proposed, is very different from the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act. I just can't see how you can end up with a just and humane law as long as immigration reform is being linked to the issue of national security."

    The Big Conversation

    Texas Tribune
    January 29, 2013
    by David Muto

    A major new federal immigration proposal has corralled bipartisan support, but Texas Republicans aren't biting.

    The proposal — unveiled Monday by a group of four Republican and four Democratic U.S. senators — includes a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and increased border security. The unveiling came a day before President Barack Obama is expected to lay out a plan of his own that is said to be moderately more liberal than the senators' proposal.

    But in Texas, the senators' proposal isn't winning much GOP support. Both of the state's U.S. senators, Republicans John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, expressed reservations about the plan.

    "There are some good elements in this proposal, especially increasing the resources and manpower to secure our border and also improving and streamlining legal immigration," Cruz said in a statement. "However, I have deep concerns with the proposed path to citizenship. To allow those who came here illegally to be placed on such a path is both inconsistent with rule of law and profoundly unfair to the millions of legal immigrants who waited years, if not decades, to come to America legally."

    A spokeswoman for Cornyn told the The Dallas Morning News, "There are many facets to immigration reform, but one that must be addressed first and foremost is our porous border."

    In a statement, U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, a San Antonio Republican and member of the House Judiciary Committee's immigration subcommittee, called the plan "amnesty," adding, "When you legalize those who are in the country illegally, it costs taxpayers millions of dollars, costs American workers thousands of jobs and encourages more illegal immigration."

    The opposition from Texas Republicans may mirror the pushback the plan receives from Republicans in Washington, especially in the GOP-controlled House, whose speaker, John Boehner, on Monday offered a tepid response to the proposal.

    Saturday, January 26, 2013

    South Texas border fence in limbo amid flooding, wildlife worries

    E & E News
    January 23, 2013
    by April Reese

    In south Texas, where the Rio Grande divides the United States from Mexico, three of the last remaining sections of border fence -- approved more than five years ago -- remain unbuilt.

    Unlike many existing sections, those in limbo would be constructed within the floodplain. They would stretch a total of 7 miles and skim the southern edge of three Texas towns -- Roma, Rio Grande and Los Ebanos.

    Mexican officials, border town mayors, environmental groups, residents and some congressional leaders remain concerned that those projects could potentially push Rio Grande floodwaters into Mexican towns and block wildlife corridors.

    After languishing on the back burner for several years, the projects have advanced recently after receiving a needed stamp of approval from an international governmental body. But as many opponents have made clear, the fence Congress authorized in 2006 will not be completed without a major fight.

    "I've lived here all my life," said Rio Grande City Mayor Ruben Villarreal, who has governed the city for five years. "The minute you manipulate anything along the river, it affects you, and how that will affect the community is a big concern. It's going to obstruct the natural flow of the water and obstruct wildlife."

    If the sections in question are constructed, local officials and residents fear debris will build up along the fence, causing severe flooding and erosion.

    At first, officials with the International Boundary Water Commission (IBWC), created to address water-related issues along the border, shared those concerns. But after alterations to the original plans, the agency has changed its mind, said Sally Spener, a foreign affairs officer with the United States' section of the IBWC, or the USIBWC.

    "There was a new design that they came up with that did not cause a prohibitive obstruction," Spener said, referring to the Department of Homeland Security, which is charged with implementing the projects. "In other words, it wasn't a solid fence. It was a different design back in 2008."

    The fence could also block wildlife from key migration corridors, environmental groups say.

    Scott Nichols, who works for the Sierra Club's Borderlands Project and lives in the border town of McAllen, Texas, worries about the fence's impact on rare and endangered species, including the ocelot, whose population has dropped to about 100 breeding animals. If the fence is built, that will be one more barrier hemming in wildlife -- along with roads, buildings and other fencing.

    The Department of Homeland Security has already constructed fence segments through prime wildlife areas, including the Las Palomas Wildlife Management Area and the South Texas Refuge Complex, over the objections of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The agencies, along with conservation groups, have worked for decades to purchase and restore habitat in the lower Rio Grande Valley, and the new fencing could severely undermine those efforts, Nichols and other conservationists say.

    Villarreal said DHS and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) haven't paid enough attention to what the people who live along the border want.

    "At some point, stop asking Washington and start asking border residents, and you'll find a solution," he said, "because we live on the river."

    In the end, opponents' best hope of killing the fence in south Texas may be the congressional funding crunch. CBP says it currently does not have the money to pursue the project.

    "There is no funding to build any additional fence at this time," said Bill Brooks, a spokesman for CBP's south Texas office. But many locals worry the money will be found in the next few years.

    Of rivers and boundaries

    Concerns about the fence date back to the late 2000s. In 2008, the IBWC, a binational government agency that deals with water-related border issues, warned DHS that the fence segments in Rio Grande City, Roma and Los Ebanos could potentially cause flooding and shift the international boundary.

    Under a 1970 boundary treaty, IBWC -- both the agency's Mexican section and the U.S. section -- must ensure that projects built in the Rio Grande floodplain do not obstruct or deflect the river's flows or exacerbate flooding. In particular, IBWC officials worried that during rainstorms, debris would build up against the fence and turn it into a dam of sorts, diverting flows into Mexican communities (Land Letter, March 27, 2008).
    But after consultants analyzing the potential effects of the fence on river flows revised their original model, USIBWC dropped their concerns.

    The Mexican section of IBWC, however, remained unconvinced.

    "The location, alignment and design of the proposed fence represent a clear obstruction of the Rio Grande hydraulic area, since in the towns of Rio Grande City and Roma, Texas, the fence would occupy nearly all of the hydraulic area on the U.S. side, causing deflection of flows toward the Mexican side," wrote Luis Antonio Rascon Mendoza, principal engineer for IBWC-Mexico, in a Dec. 13, 2011, letter to the USIBWC.

    The fence would obstruct 60 to 70 percent of the hydraulic area, and considering the amount of debris that could pile up against the barrier, "the fence constitutes a serious obstruction and deflection of the Rio Grande flows toward Mexico," he wrote.

    But last year, engineers for the USIBWC cleared the way for the project to proceed, concluding that the fence would not violate the 1970 boundary treaty.

    "After an in-depth and thorough review, the USIBWC has concluded that the proposed fence project(s) will not cause significant deflection or obstruction of ... flood flows of the Rio Grande," USIBWC engineer John Merino wrote in a Feb. 3, 2012, letter responding to the concerns of the Mexican section of IBWC.

    The fence would be constructed of 6-inch vertical bollard posts with 4-inch spaces in between. Computer models show that the amount of water that would be directed into Mexico by the fence is "within the threshold limits," partly because some of the flow would pass through the fence, Merino said.

    Based on that information, the USIBWC notified the Department of Homeland Security that it had no objection to the three fence projects -- a necessary step for DHS to move forward.

    Multiple attempts to reach a DHS representative familiar with the projects garnered no response. DHS has told IBWC it would come up with a plan to keep debris from piling up against the fence during storms.

    It is unclear whether the Mexican section of IBWC remains concerned about the project. In a brief phone conversation, Mendoza referred an inquiry from Greenwire about Mexico's position on the project to a spokesperson, who did not respond to requests for comment in time for publication.

    Despite the USIBWC's assurances, local opposition in the United States remains strong. At a meeting held by USIBWC in Rio Grande City late last summer, the majority of the crowd of residents and local officials questioned the agency's conclusions.

    "How can you really tell us it's going to work 100 percent?" said Aleida Garcia, of Los Ebanos, a small community that lies within the floodplain, according to an Associated Press account of the Aug. 29, 2012, meeting. "Because we're talking about people, communities, families."

    Jose Nuñez, supervisory civil engineer with USIBWC, said in response that "whether the fence is there or not, you're still in the floodplain," according to AP. He reiterated that the computer model used by the agency's engineers to analyze the project's hydrologic effects suggests that the fence will not create a significant obstruction.

    The fence is unpopular in other areas of Texas, as well. In places where CBP tried to avoid building in the floodplain, the new 18-foot barrier has cut off landowners from some of their private property, including farmland. Some landowners have sued over DHS's use of eminent domain to allow construction through private property.

    Securing the border?

    The fence projects in limbo were authorized as part of a larger border reinforcement effort mandated under the Secure Fence Act of 2006. It called for construction of a total of about 700 miles of fence along sections of the U.S.-Mexico border, which spans 1,954 miles from Texas to California. The barrier was needed to "make the border more secure," President George W. Bush said in signing the legislation into law on Oct. 26, 2006.

    Around the time the Secure Fence Act was passed, Congress also gave its stamp of approval to the Real ID Act, which allowed more than 30 environmental and cultural laws to be waived by the DHS secretary to expedite construction of the ambitious project. But the south Texas projects still have to comply with international treaties governing actions along the section of the Rio Grande that serves as the border there.

    Critics maintain that in south Texas, there is no need for the fence in the first place. Nichols of the Sierra Club points to a June 2008 document drafted to address community concerns as evidence that the CBP itself believes the fence projects planned for south Texas would be overkill. CPB said in the document that at that time, it was able to "effectively control" that section of the border with boots on the ground.

    But the agency went on to say it believed further reinforcements would be necessary if illegal activity increased in the Rio Grande Valley sector.

    The number of apprehensions in the Rio Grande Valley actually dropped in the ensuing years, however.

    According to data provided by CBP, apprehension of illegal border crossers has decreased almost every year since 2008. Apprehensions in the Rio Grande sector went from 134,186 in fiscal 2005 to 59,243 in fiscal 2011.
    Some local officials, including Mayor Villarreal and U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), whose district includes some of the area slated for the projects, have called for alternatives to the fence to secure the area, primarily by expanding the law enforcement presence.

    "Let's get more money for our local sheriffs and police," Cuellar said in a video posted on his website after a DHS hearing on border security.

    Villarreal, however, remains convinced the fence will be built within the next few years.

    "I think we'll have to deal with the strong possibility that we'll have a fence to contend with," he said.

    Friday, January 25, 2013

    The Quest For A Secure Border

    January 24, 2013
    by Michel Marizco

    ARIVACA, Ariz. -- Border security first. That’s the rallying call of many political conservatives who see 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country as clear evidence that the federal government has failed the job of border enforcement.

    And they say, before we reform the immigration system, and offer a path to citizenship to those who came here illegally, we need to secure the border.

    Here in the communications room of the U.S. Border Patrol’s station in Nogales, Ariz., two men sit facing a wall of computer screens. Amid the scratch and static coming from the radios of agents in the field, the two men move joysticks back and forth, watching the displays. They see what the massive cameras mounted along the Mexico border see. A single figure is standing near the looming border wall that separates the two countries. That makes the camera operator suspicious.
    "He’s talking to someone to see if the coast is clear,” the operator said.

    This is the modern face of high tech border security. It’s become a massive slice of federal law enforcement spending -- $18 billion was spent last year on immigration and port security. That was more than on drug enforcement, the FBI and gun investigations combined. The Border Patrol alone more than doubled in size in the last decade to more than 21,000 agents. The Homeland Security Department has built 652 miles of steel barriers all along the border.

    Is it working? And if so, how do we define that?

    Andy Adame is a spokesman for the Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector. On a cold January morning, he’s driving on a dirt trail set against a backdrop of yellowing grasses and looming mesquite trees toward the border fence -- no longer strands of cheap barbed wire dividing the two countries.

    "You don’t see that anymore," he says. He points to the fence. "This, in order to cross this, you better be 18 to 40 years old and in good physical condition."

    It’s called the PV-1, thirty feet of diamond-shaped steel bars above ground and six feet more below. It can absorb a pickup truck ramming into it at 55 miles an hour.

    "I think we have reached that point where we have a significant amount of fencing where it does now have an impact on illegal immigration and drug organizations trying to bring their illicit cargo across," Adame said.

    Here’s one measure of success: Apprehensions across the entire border have dropped. Some places like San Diego have reported arrests have dropped to a third of what they were.

    But the numbers don’t tell the full story. For example, recividism rates only declined about 6 percent from 2008 to 2011. And the agency’s Tucson Sector remains the busiest in the country, accounting for more than a third of illegal traffic.

    The numbers can be confusing, too. Arrests of illegal immigrants drop and that’s called a success. But the amount of drugs seized goes up and that’s also called a success. While 2011's apprehension numbers dropped compared to 2008, drug seizures went up by 20 percent.

    Both were called a success.

    Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was asked about that juxtaposition last summer by a member of a Homeland Security Oversight congressional committee.

    "The apprehension numbers are used as a proxy for how many are attempting. We actually think that we are now picking up almost everybody that is trying to cross that border illegally," she said.

    That created a stir. Members of Congress wanted to know, where?

    “Oh, I would have to give you a list. At least one of the Arizona sectors, I think we are getting virtually everybody," she said.

    The question of success has continued so long that Congressman Ron Barber in Tucson finally asked the Government Accountability Office to study what’s been spent and what’s been accomplished.

    "What they found was that there really is a plan without goals, without measurements, or an evaluation function. Which means, we really don’t have a plan," Barber said.

    His proposal: Ask the people who actually live on the border.

    "They’re going to tell me if they see a lower number of people coming through. They’re going to tell me if they can go to town without taking their kids with them. If they can go to the clothesline without wearing a weapon because they feel more secure and safe on their own land," Barber said.

    One of those border residents is Jim Chilton. He lives 19 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border in the small town of Arivaca. His cattle ranch runs all the way down to Mexico and he’s seen it all. Dozens of people arrested just back behind his house. Spotters working for drug runners laying up in the hills on his ranch watching for agents.

    Despite Napolitano’s claims, Chilton says the job isn’t done.

    "A secure border means to me that the United States government is protecting me from foreign threats," Chilton said.

    For its part, Customs and Border Protection agreed with the GAO’s audit. It has said it will design a plan that finally defines for itself what border security actually means. That answer will come next November. Congressman Barber says he’s going to hold a series of public meetings in the border region to develop an answer now.

    John McCain in immigration spotlight

    January 24, 2013
    By Manu Rajo and Kate Nocera

    To understand the GOP’s complicated history with immigration reform, look no further than Sen. John McCain.

    The Arizona Republican has spent his last two elections distancing himself from an immigration deal he reached with liberal icon Ted Kennedy in 2007. He was pushed to the right in 2008 by Mitt Romney and then again in his 2010 Senate primary, positioning himself as a fierce border security hawk and outspoken advocate for the state’s sweeping anti-immigration law.

    He even enlisted local immigration hard-liners like Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu to make the case. “Senator, you’re one of us,” Babeu said to McCain in a campaign ad about building a fence along the Mexican border.

    But after Latino voters ditched Romney and the Republican Party at the polls in November, and with President Barack Obama and Democrats pushing immigration reform, McCain is one of a bipartisan group of eight senators talking behind closed doors on an immigration deal that could give the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants more leeway than many conservative hard-liners are ready to accept.

    If the coalition holds, McCain could emerge as a chief ally to Obama, a stark reversal from the past four years, when McCain was a thorn in the administration’s side on a host of issues, including immigration and defense.

    “I’ve been trying for a long time, and I think maybe now that the climate is such that we can be successful,” McCain told POLITICO.

    After witnessing both Romney and McCain shed Latino support to Obama in the past two presidential elections, Republicans are growing increasingly fearful that they have mishandled the immigration issue. Resolve the issue now — and tone down the rhetoric — or forever suffer life in the minority, some in the party fear. And many border-state senators say the broken immigration system is causing serious problems back home, and the political climate suddenly is right for a bipartisan deal.

    “I’ve always felt that comprehensive reform is the way to go, and I think I was right,” McCain said.

    McCain has challenged the idea his 2007 deal with Kennedy was about amnesty for illegal immigrants — famously declaring in a 2008 presidential primary debate in New Hampshire: “Let me just say, I’ve never supported amnesty.”

    And he says his work on a bipartisan bill now and the tough positions on border security in 2010 are not mutually exclusive. In that 2010 ad, McCain says, “Drug and human smuggling, home invasions, murder.” To, which Babeu responds, “We’re outmanned. Of all the illegals in America, more than half come through Arizona.”

    The senator says he still stands by the sentiment.

    “You go down to the border where people’s homes are being invaded, where drug smugglers are crossing property every night, they deserve the same security that you have where you work and they don’t,” McCain said in the interview. “And that’s why border security has to be a fundamental part of any agreement.”

    That McCain can bounce back and forth on immigration is also reflective of local politics in the border state of Arizona, where illegal immigration remains a rampant problem. But after the state stoked an emotional national debate in 2010 when it passed a tough crackdown on illegal immigration, known as SB 1070, the author of that law lost a stunning recall election in 2011, a sign Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) says shows the changing attitudes back home.

    “You have the author [state Sen. Russell Pearce], chief sponsor of SB 1070, lose in the most conservative district in the state,” said Flake, one of the eight members negotiating a compromise. “The tone of the debate has changed, and it’s easier, I think, to find a solution now.”

    That’s what the group of eight senators are hoping to accomplish. They are looking to put together a broad proposal that would beef up border enforcement, overhaul the future flow of legal immigrants, put in place new programs for seasonal workers and determine how to bring the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants into the legal immigration system. Whether to provide a direct pathway to citizenship for the nation’s illegal immigrants or instead allow them to stay in the country legally through other means remains a sticking point in the talks.

    Senators in the group say they are making serious progress towards “principles” that would serve as the basis of their legislation — and they credit McCain for playing a central role in that effort.
    “He’s being very, very constructive,” Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said of McCain. “Very positive. And I’m very optimistic, particularly because he’s come at this in some of the most positive ways I’ve seen in a long time.”

    Even the possibility Obama could benefit hasn’t been an issue, said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who is part of the group of eight. “I think there are long-term interests, but not long-term enemies in this business,” said Durbin, who praised McCain as well.

    But if McCain sides with the group of eight on a comprehensive deal, it could put several of his GOP colleagues who also took a tougher line on immigration in a tricky spot — particularly those up for reelection next year.

    “Generally speaking, I think we do better when we do step by step and I think piece by piece,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who is up in 2014. “I think one of the reasons why we failed in 2007 is that we bit too much off. My first preference is to start on the things we agree on.”

    Added Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), a chief opponent of the 2007 deal: “I had said that after the ’86 deal, we shouldn’t award citizenship anymore to people who came here illegally. We set up a new system where we helped provide amnesty for millions over here, so in the future we just can’t continue to do that.”

    And if McCain agrees to a deal allowing illegal immigrants to access the legal immigration system, he is bound to hear intense criticism from the right back home.

    “It is wrong: it is wrong on the law; it is wrong economically; and it is wrong in principle,” said former Rep. J.D. Hayworth, who lost to McCain in the 2010 Senate primary. “And this kind of action being pursued for whatever reasons — if there are those who believe it will buy the Republican Party political favors, they are sorely mistaken.”

    Flake acknowledged the political balancing act for the two men of getting an immigration bill done that appeals to conservatives in their home state.

    “It’s difficult in Arizona, obviously being a border state, but he has consistently pushed for it and continues to and that’s good,” Flake said.

    Wes Gullett, a former Arizona campaign aide for the senator, said immigration has always been an “evolving” issue in the state.

    “So you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” Gullett said. “If you try and fix it, try to work on it, and you try to work on it in a bipartisan fashion, you’re going to be attacked from the right. If you don’t do anything, you’re going to be attacked from the right.”

    Thursday, January 24, 2013

    Environmentalists: Border fence putting Arizona pronghorns in peril

    Arizona Republic
    January 24, 2013
    by Bob Ortega

    PHOENIX -- The land where the antelope play, where Arizona meets Mexico, has been divided in recent years by taller and longer border fences.
    They are meant to keep out or slow undocumented migrants and drug smugglers coming north from Mexico, but environmentalists say they're also helping drive two southeastern Arizona pronghorn antelope herds to the brink of dying out.
    Environmentalists say the inability of the pronghorn — and other wildlife — to range freely across southern Arizona and northern Mexico has contributed to dramatic declines in the population of what are known as the San Rafael and Sonoita herds. From 122 animals identified in a 2005 count, the herds' numbers fell to 26 in a survey last year, according to the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
    The San Rafael herd is down to an estimated eight animals, and the Sonoita herd is down to an estimated 18.
    While the number of animals spotted can depend on weather conditions and other factors, Game and Fish doesn't consider either herd sustainable, and the agency plans to capture and transplant enough animals from the Chino Valley area, north of Prescott, to reinvigorate them.
    But there are questions about whether the transplants will work if border fences and other pressures on the herds go unchanged.
    Dan Millis, borderlands program coordinator for the Sierra Club, said he suspects not. However, John Millican, a project manager with the Arizona Antelope Foundation, said he thinks the border fence may actually have protected the few pronghorn that are left from being shot by poachers in northern Mexico.
    Millican and Millis agree that better studies would help make the fence's impact clear.
    Pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) aren't really antelope, which are found only in Africa and Asia. However, they're commonly called pronghorn antelope because they resemble true antelope in behavior and appearance. The pronghorn is the only surviving species of the antilocapridae family. They're considered the second-fastest land animal in the world, after the cheetah, with a top speed of more than 60 mph.
    Environmental reviews skipped
    After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the Bush administration launched a massive expansion of the border wall and the Border Patrol. In 2006, Congress adopted the Secure Fence Act, and the Department of Homeland Security began contracting to build or reinforce fences in key areas along the U.S.-Mexican border, including in Arizona. Between the budget years 2008 and 2011, Customs and Border Protection spent $1.2 billion to build nearly 300 miles of fencing and roads along the U.S.-Mexican border, including areas around the Huachuca Mountains where the two pronghorn herds live.
    To get that fencing up quickly, the Bush administration issued waivers of environmental- and endangered-species-protection laws and scrapped the environmental-impact studies and reviews that normally would have been required.
    "We wish we had more scientific studies to point to," Millis said, "but the Department of Homeland Security has a poor environmental record. Borderwide, there's been very little funding for studies and habitat restoration and little of the due diligence that needs to be done."
    Customs and Border Protection signed an agreement in 2009 with the Department of the Interior to fund up to $50 million in studies and projects along the border. The following year, the agencies launched $6.8 million in studies and projects along the Southwestern border. These included building a fish barrier in the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge, restoring habitat for long-nosed bats in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, and surveying and monitoring jaguars in southern Arizona.
    Customs officials couldn't immediately identify further spending on border mitigation efforts.
    Several studies that have been completed — on species such as the desert bighorn sheep in California and the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl — show that the habitats the animals need to thrive have been further fragmented. The chief causes are habitat loss due to development, habitat change from invasive plant species, the fences, the new roads along the fences and the increased Border Patrol presence.
    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has led a decadelong multiagency project focusing on Arizona’s other southern corner, near Yuma, where the population of the endangered Sonoran pronghorn, a subspecies, has rebounded from 21 animals in the wild 10 years ago to more than 100 today. In addition, there are 125 more in breeding pens near Ajo, said Jim Paxon, chief of information for the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

    Customs and Border Protection declined to discuss mitigation efforts in southeastern Arizona, but pointed, in a written statement, to the recovery efforts for the Sonoran pronghorn as “an example of our commitment.” The statement added that the agency “is fully engaged in efforts that consider the environment as we work to secure our nation’s border.”

    Moving forward

    Game and Fish tried twice — unsuccessfully — last winter to capture pronghorn near Chino Valley, using a quarter-mile-wide V-shaped trap leading to a corral, Paxon said. Officials decided against using a helicopter with a net gun because the mortality rate for the animals can run to 20 percent, vs. 3 to 4 percent using the corral traps, he said.

    The captures have been postponed until next year, said Amber Munig, big-game supervisor for Game and Fish. Because the herd there spends much of its time on federal lands, the delay gives Game and Fish time to do a survey and gain permission from the federal Bureau of Land Management.

    Munig said their goal is to transplant enough animals to boost the San Rafael and Sonoita herds up to at least 50 pronghorn each.

    Munig said that while she couldn’t speak to the impact of the border fence, “We are looking at habitat issues and fragmentation in that area within Arizona.” The department has been working for years with other state and federal agencies, the Arizona Antelope Foundation and local ranchers to restore habitat in the areas used by the two herds, removing invasive species such as cheatgrass and juniper that squeeze out the native plants the pronghorn eat, she said.

    Millican, who worked for 30 years for Game and Fish before joining the antelope foundation, said tackling another kind of fencing also has been key to connecting the fragmented areas where the pronghorn live. Arizona’s range lands are crisscrossed with barbed wire, old and new. That’s an issue for pronghorn, which shy from roads and, though fast, are not good jumpers, Millican said.

    “Even when they’re really pressured, they prefer to go under a fence,” he said. But the lowest strand of older fencing, typically 6 to 8 inches off the ground, doesn’t give them enough clearance. So a major focus is working with landowners to replace the lowest strand of barbed wire with smooth wire 16 to 18 inches off the ground, which will keep livestock in but let the pronghorn through.

    Millican agrees with the Sierra Club’s Millis that the border fence causes issues with other species moving back and forth. For the pronghorn, though, he said, “We have protections in the U.S.; there aren’t a lot of protections on the Mexican side.”

    He said he’s confident that with proper habitat management on the U.S. side, the border fence won’t stop the herds from thriving again.

    Millis, meanwhile, argues that other agencies and groups shy away from criticizing the Department of Homeland Security because “people don’t want to mess around with security issues.”

    But he said there’s no question that the border walls harm the environment, “and now Arizonans are stuck with the costs of cleaning up the mess.”

    Monday, January 21, 2013

    Quotes of the Day

    Hot Air
    January 20, 2013

    Immigration, [Condoleezza] Rice added, was the “big issue.”

    “Frankly, we sent some pretty bad signals around immigration. George W. Bush, John McCain, Jon Kyl, and Ted Kennedy had an immigration bill in 2007 and it failed. And I felt at that moment that that was the real missed opportunity. We’ve got to get comprehensive immigration reform back on the agenda.”

    Praising Republicans, like Marco Rubio, who have been speaking out about immigration, Rice also made it clear that she felt certain components of the GOP platform, such as fiscal values, defense, federalism, and individual responsibility, were “widely popular among the American people.”

    “But if you send messages that there are whole segments of the population that are not welcome, not only is it bad politics, but it’s bad policy because without immigration, robust immigration, we have the same sclerotic demographics of Japan and Europe,” Rice remarked. “The Republican party has both a political and a policy problem.”
    Proponents of comprehensive immigration reform, who mainly reside on the left, are surprised that Rubio, a Republican from Florida, has generated so much positive buzz from conservatives…

    “He’s doing an awesome job of bringing along conservatives and bringing along conservatives in the media,” said Frank Sharry, the founder of America’s Voice, which advocates for comprehensive reform. “He’s making enormous progress in making reform palatable to people on the right in a way that no one has before.”…

    Critics of proposals granting legal status to illegal immigrants say Rubio’s blueprint is unacceptable, based on what they know. So far Rubio has only sketched out his vision in interviews and has yet to introduce legislation.

    “We have some major issues with what it looks like he’s doing in some areas. This is not something we would endorse,” said Rosemary Jenks, director of government affairs at NumbersUSA, a group that opposed past efforts to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

    “The party is hungry for a leader who can unite us. The party and the country is hungry for that,” said Republican strategist Henry Barbour, who is co-chairing a review of the national party’s 2012 campaign and coming up with a blueprint for future elections. “Addition not subtraction wins elections. I’m focused on 2013 and 2014, but the more Rubio shows he can unite our party, the more interesting he will be to people thinking about 2016.”…

    “Mending course on immigration is a requirement for Republicans to be able to successfully engage Latino voters,” said Clarissa Martinez-De-Castro, director of immigration and national campaigns at the National Council of La Raza, a leading Hispanic advocacy group. “If they stay on the path they are on, they are on their way to political irrelevance.”…

    “He has the potential to be a force for building the space in which Republicans are meaningfully considering resolutions to this problem,” said Martinez-De-Castro. “The expectations are high for his leadership on this.”

    Mr. Rubio laid out three [principles]: aside from fair treatment for foreigners who play by the rules, he said, any legislation should also recognize that legal immigration has been a boon to the United States in the past and is “critical to our future.” He would also insist on new measures to ensure strict enforcement at the border and within the country…

    Mr. Rubio said he would seek to reorient the visa system to bring in more educated immigrants with skills in technology and science. As for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the country, Mr. Rubio said, “We have to understand these folks are here to stay.” He added that most of them had not committed serious or violent crimes.

    “The right way to deal with them is not amnesty,” Mr. Rubio said, “and it is not a special pathway to citizenship.” Instead, he said, he would offer a provisional legal status to immigrants who passed criminal background checks, paid fines and passed English and civics tests.

    But, he said, “ultimately it’s not good for our country to have people permanently trapped in that status where they can’t become citizens.” After a certain period, he said, immigrants would be allowed to apply through the existing system to become legal permanent residents, a status that would eventually allow them to become citizens.
    Immigration reform legislation must include a pathway to citizenship for the nation’s illegal immigrants, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Thursday…

    “There will be nothing done in my Senate [on immigration reform] without a pathway to citizenship,” Reid said in an interview with the Las Vegas Sun…

    “We have spent a huge amount of money on border security, and both our northern and southern borders are more secure,” Reid said. “Frankly, Mexico is doing much better economically, and that has helped the issue a lot. We can’t build a fence of 3,000 miles because no matter how high we build it, they can build a ladder taller than that fence. So I think we have about expended our energy on border security.”

    He acknowledged that major pieces of his plan remain to be worked out. According to current federal visa rosters, most Mexican-born immigrants applying to become permanent residents now face a wait of at least 17 years to receive their document — known as a green card — even if they followed the rules and were approved. Mr. Rubio’s proposal could add seven million more Mexican immigrants to those backlogs. The path to citizenship he proposes for illegal immigrants could be several decades long.

    “I don’t have a solution for that question right now,” Mr. Rubio said. He said he would seek to relieve backlogs by speeding up green cards for immigrants already in the legal line, not by creating special pathways for illegal immigrants.

    Mr. Rubio’s principles did not sound very different from outlines for an overhaul that President Obama has offered. And the senator, whose star is rising rapidly in his party, chose not to hammer on his differences with the White House.
    Unfortunately, the few specifics Rubio has named are almost identical to the failed amnesty plans of Presidents Bush and Obama. Don’t take my word for it — just ask Miami Herald political reporter Marc Caputo, or pro-amnesty Mother Jones reporter Adam Serwer, or anti-amnesty Center for Immigration Studies chief Mark Krikorian. All of them have compared the Obama and Rubio immigration plans, and all of them have concluded the two plans are almost identical

    Both Obama and Rubio swear up and down that their “path to citizenship,” as they call it, is not amnesty because those here illegally today would have to jump through a series of hoops before they obtained legal status. Both Obama and Rubio would require illegal immigrants to: prove they were in the United States for a lengthy period of time, undergo a background check, pay a fine, pay back taxes and prove they have learned English.

    But even these minimal requirements would obviously never be enforced. Just imagine if a grandmother came forward, passed a background check, paid her taxes and fines but failed her English test. Would Rubio deport her? Of course not. As Rubio admitted above, no one is going to vote for you if you threaten to deport their grandmother.
    “If the president really wants to make a difference,” Santorum said on This Week, “he’ll lead with immigration. because there’s not a single Republican up on Capitol Hill who believes he wants to get it done. They all believe … he will put a measure that the Republicans can’t accept and blame Republicans and then continue to drive a wedge between Republicans and Hispanics and if he changes that and if he changes that and he says, ‘No, I’m willing to actually work together and get something that we can all agree on,’ he will change the tone on Capitol Hill.”

    Santorum also stressed that Republicans were ready to act on immigration.

    “I think the Republicans are ready to do something on immigration,” he said. “You saw Marco Rubio’s plan which is pretty far down the road. It looks a lot like what President Bush put forward four years ago.”

    So, in considering what can now accurately be referred to as the Obama-Rubio-Ryan amnesty plan of 2013, there’s one central question that Rubio and Ryan need to be asked: Do they trust President Obama to enforce the immigration laws in the future, after today’s illegals have been legalized?…

    And if the answer is “no,” i.e., that Rubio and Ryan don’t trust Obama to enforce whatever deal they manage to push through Congress, then why won’t we just end up with another 11 million illegal aliens a few years down the road?

    This isn’t some nit I’m picking — it’s central to the whole concept of “comprehensive immigration reform.” If you trust Obama to do the right thing, then, by all means, endorse his plan for amnesty, as Rubio and Ryan have done. But if you don’t trust him to keep his word, if you think all his statements come with an expiration date, then there’s no honest way you can back his approach.


    Sunday, January 13, 2013

    Residents in Arizona town feel 'invaded by Border Patrol'

    Los Angeles Times
    January 12, 2013
    by Cindy Carcamo

    BISBEE, Ariz. — For the last 20 years, they have descended on the sun-bleached desert lands in southeastern Arizona near the Mexican border.

    Longtime locals say they damage irrigation lines, tread on land without permission, alienate merchants and contribute to a sense of unease that didn't use to exist.

    But lately these complaints are aimed not so much at people arriving illegally from Mexico as they are at the federal forces sent to stop them.

    Residents say the deployment of hundreds of agents — armed, uniformed and omnipresent — and millions of dollars in new infrastructure have created a military-like occupation in their once-sleepy hamlets.

    They point to sprawling new facilities that dominate the scrubby landscape, such as the upgraded U.S. Border Patrol station in Naco and a fortified border fence that lights up like an airport runway lost among the yuccas. Some grumble that the federal agents are paid well above the county average while spurning the areas they patrol to live in a suburbanized town nearly 25 miles away.

    Others here welcome the buildup, and even argue that it should be enhanced, especially in light of the slaying two years ago of border agent Brian Terry during a shootout with bandits. But many chafe at what they contend is an unacceptable cost to property, nature and their desert way of life.

    "Honey, I've lived here all my life. This is all I know. I thought we were better off before the Border Patrol invaded us," said Annette Walton, 53, as she served coffee and burgers to regulars at her diner, Our Place Cafe in South Bisbee. "We were not invaded by the illegals. We were invaded by Border Patrol."

    Innkeeper Jami Knudsvig is put off by the "ominous and eerie" way the border fence near her home is illuminated at night, itsgreen-tinged lights pulsing in rhythm.

    "They're like Christmas lights. Just bigger," she said. "Who are we keeping out? Are we keeping us in?"
    Dan Oldfield, who has lived in the area for more than 30 years, calls the security presence excessive and "a constant nuisance."

    Oldfield said he had never felt unsafe, even when his home was burglarized in the 1990s by people he suspects were border crossers.

    "Nothing was taken," he said. "They went through the refrigerator, looking for something to eat."

    A tree-maintenance contractor, Oldfield said he didn't understand how the agents filled their days, noting that illegal border crossings in the area have plummeted in recent years.

    Gary Widner, the Border Patrol deputy agent in charge of the Naco station, says the agents keep illegal crossings and related crime down.

    "It's because we're here. That's why they've slowed down," Widner said. "If you have no presence in the area, they'll exploit it."

    In the 1960s, Naco, Mexico, and Naco, Ariz., were essentially one small town.

    Anna Marie Salomon, a teenager at the time, said she and others knew the 20 or so immigration officials on both sides of the old port of entry. Most lived in the community, with family on both sides of the border.

    Crossing the boundary "was like going from your living room to your bedroom," Salomon said.

    Even in the late 1990s, only about 50 agents patrolled the region out of the Naco station, 12 miles south of Bisbee.

    But from 2000 to 2003, the Naco station led the nation in human and drug smuggling arrests, Widner said, citing Department of Homeland Security statistics. The region saw more armed home-invasions and other related crimes.

    By 2005, an estimated 400 Border Patrol agents had been deployed in Cochise County to secure 30 miles of international boundary. The border fence was fortified, checkpoints sprang up, and the National Guard arrived for support.

    From California to Texas, the Border Patrol ranks doubled to 18,500, the agency said.

    Crime and apprehensions fell sharply in the entire Tucson sector, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. In Tucson, violent crime decreased by 27%, despite population growth in the last decade.

    "The quality of life for these folks has gone up pretty significantly," Widner said. "They're not having to worry about the groups coming on their yard or being scared by armed invasions."

    Though some agents grew up locally, the assignment is "an eye-opener" for those from urban areas, said Steven Passement, a Tucson-based U.S. Border Patrol community liaison.

    The agents are trained in ranching etiquette, taught to respect open pastures that probably are a rancher's private land and livelihood, he said.

    Still, property damage is inevitable when agents chase smugglers.

    "It's going to happen. Our guys are out there working," Passement said.

    They patrol a region left depressed after the decline of nearby copper mines, usually while sitting behind the wheel of government SUVs.

    "They've got ATVs, horses. They've got helicopters now. It grinds me every day," Oldfield said of the money spent. He and others complained about the agents' salaries — the base pay of $38,000 to $49,000 is up to 40% higher than the median income in Bisbee. There are also plenty of opportunities for overtime.
    Many choose to live in Sierra Vista, nearly 25 miles from Bisbee.

    Unlike the rural areas near the border, the town offers recreational activities, employment opportunities for spouses, retail outlets such as Target, and the schools are better.

    "It happens to be that the Sierra Vista community gives them everything they need for their family," Passement said.

    Widner says agents are vital to the local economy, pointing out that they spend money at local eateries and other businesses even if they don't live nearby.

    Officials say they've made an effort to forge partnerships with residents, calling them essential to border security.

    "They are some of our best sources of information," Widner said.

    Now, officials say, some of America's safest communities are along the U.S.-Mexico border.

    Dawn Birdsong, who has five acres a few miles north of the border, isn't convinced. She points to a collection of more than two dozen tattered hats that decorate her chain-link fence. She said they probably belonged to border crossers and their smugglers.

    The agents who patrol the area are "all we have," said Birdsong, who favors deployment of the U.S. military.
    "Get them down here and secure our border," she said. "This is escalating. I think there is going to be a war."
    But longtime resident Salomon questions the big security footprint.

    "Don't get me wrong. I know there are bad things going on over there, but that's over there," she said, pointing south toward Mexico. "There's no war going on here.",0,3867806.story

    Obama Will Seek Citizenship Path in One Fast Push

    The New York Times
    January 12, 2013
    by Julia Preston

    WASHINGTON — President Obama plans to push Congress to move quickly in the coming months on an ambitious overhaul of the immigration system that would include a path to citizenship for most of the 11 million illegal immigrants in the country, senior administration officials and lawmakers said last week.

    Mr. Obama and Senate Democrats will propose the changes in one comprehensive bill, the officials said, resisting efforts by some Republicans to break the overhaul into smaller pieces — separately addressing young illegal immigrants, migrant farmworkers or highly skilled foreigners — which might be easier for reluctant members of their party to accept. 

    The president and Democrats will also oppose measures that do not allow immigrants who gain legal status to become American citizens one day, the officials said. 

    Even while Mr. Obama has been focused on fiscal negotiations and gun control, overhauling immigration remains a priority for him this year, White House officials said. Top officials there have been quietly working on a broad proposal. Mr. Obama and lawmakers from both parties believe that the early months of his second term offer the best prospects for passing substantial legislation on the issue. 

    Mr. Obama is expected to lay out his plan in the coming weeks, perhaps in his State of the Union address early next month, administration officials said. The White House will argue that its solution for illegal immigrants is not an amnesty, as many critics insist, because it would include fines, the payment of back taxes and other hurdles for illegal immigrants who would obtain legal status, the officials said. 

    The president’s plan would also impose nationwide verification of legal status for all newly hired workers; add visas to relieve backlogs and allow highly skilled immigrants to stay; and create some form of guest-worker program to bring in low-wage immigrants in the future. 

    A bipartisan group of senators has also been meeting to write a comprehensive bill, with the goal of introducing legislation as early as March and holding a vote in the Senate before August. As a sign of the keen interest in starting action on immigration, White House officials and Democratic leaders in the Senate have been negotiating over which of them will first introduce a bill, Senate aides said. 

    “This is so important now to both parties that neither the fiscal cliff nor guns will get in the way,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, a Democrat who is a leader of the bipartisan discussions. 

    A similar attempt at bipartisan legislation early in Mr. Obama’s first term collapsed amid political divisions fueled by surging public wrath over illegal immigration in many states. But both supporters and opponents say conditions are significantly different now. 

    Memories of the results of the November election are still fresh here. Latinos, the nation’s fastest-growing electorate, turned out in record numbers and cast 71 percent of their ballots for Mr. Obama. Many Latinos said they were put off by Republicans’ harsh language and policies against illegal immigrants. 

    After the election, a host of Republicans, starting with Speaker John A. Boehner, said it was time for the party to find a more positive, practical approach to immigration. Many party leaders say electoral demographics are compelling them to move beyond policies based only on tough enforcement. 

    Supporters of comprehensive changes say that the elections were nothing less than a mandate in their favor, and that they are still optimistic that Mr. Obama is prepared to lead the fight. 

    “Republicans must demonstrate a reasoned approach to start to rebuild their relationship with Latino voters,” said Clarissa Martinez de Castro, the director of immigration policy at the National Council of La Raza, a Latino organization. “Democrats must demonstrate they can deliver on a promise.” 

    Since the election, Mr. Obama has repeatedly pledged to act on immigration this year. In his weekly radio address on Saturday, he again referred to the urgency of fixing the immigration system, saying it was one of the “difficult missions” the country must take on. 

    Parallel to the White House effort, Mr. Schumer and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a Republican, have been meeting with a group of at least four other colleagues to write a bill. Republicans who have participated include John McCain of Arizona, who has supported comprehensive legislation in the past; Jeff Flake, also of Arizona, who is newly elected to the Senate; and Mike Lee of Utah. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida participated in one meeting last month. 

    Democrats in the meetings include Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Senate Democrat; Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Michael Bennet of Colorado. 

    Basic tenets for the bill, Mr. Schumer said, were that it would be comprehensive and would offer eventual citizenship for illegal immigrants who follow a prolonged process to correct their status.

    “This is a bottom line,” Mr. Schumer said in an interview on Thursday. “The Democrats have made it clear we will not accept a bill without a direct path to earned citizenship.” He said senators from both parties had been “pleasantly surprised” at how rapidly the talks had proceeded. 

    Mr. Rubio, a Cuban-American who has emerged as a star in his party, is making immigration one of his primary issues. He has advocated taking changes in pieces, arguing that lawmakers will get better results if the politically and practically tangled problems of the immigration system are handled separately. 

    Mr. Rubio has been preparing a bill that would provide legal status specifically for young illegal immigrants, known as Dreamers, who came to the United States as children. 

    Mr. Rubio said Thursday that the piecemeal approach was “not a line in the sand” for him. But he said he would insist that any legalization measure should not be unfair to immigrants who played by the rules and applied to become residents through legal channels. 

    His proposals would allow illegal immigrants to gain temporary status so that they could remain in the country and work. Then they would be sent to the back of the line in the existing system to apply to become permanent residents, without any special path to citizenship. 

    Mr. Rubio said he hoped to rally Republicans to support changes. Speaking of Latinos, he said, “We are going to have a struggle speaking to a whole segment of the population about our principles of limited government and free enterprise if they think we don’t want them here.” 

    In the Republican-controlled House, the future of a comprehensive bill remains unclear. 

    Representative Phil Gingrey, a Georgia Republican who follows immigration issues, said he remained opposed to “amnesty of any kind.” 

    He said that the Obama administration had been lax on enforcement, and that he would “continue working to secure our borders and enforce existing immigration law.” 

    But groups backing the overhaul say they are bigger and better organized than in the past. Last month, the labor movement, including the A.F.L.-C.I.O. and other sometimes-warring factions, affirmed a common strategy. Last week, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said it would work with labor, Latino and church organizations to pass the overhaul this year.