SAN JUAN, April 18 - The RGV Equal Voice Network has set itself a major goal – getting U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz to support comprehensive immigration reform legislation that includes a pathway to citizenship.
The group says 60 votes are going to be needed in the Senate to pass the proposals unveiled earlier this week by the so-called Gang of Eight U.S. senators. The group says if Cornyn and Cruz can be persuaded to support the bipartisan Gang of Eight they will have made a major breakthrough in reaching the magical 60 mark.
“One would have thought that Senators Cornyn and Cruz would have been part of the Gang of Eight, effectively making it a Gang of Ten, given the demographic makeup of Texas and how much the state will benefit from immigration reform,” said Martha Sanchez, a community activist with La Unión del Pueblo Entero, a non-profit group that helps immigrants in the Valley. LUPE is part of the Equal Voice network.
“Unfortunately, our two senators were not in the Gang of Eight but they can play a big part now in helping get comprehensive immigration reform passed in the Senate,” Sanchez said.
The Gang of Eight – Sens. John McCain, Marco Rubio, Jeff Flake, Lindsey Graham, Charles Schumer, Robert Menendez, Michael Bennet, and Dick Durbin – have included in their reform proposals a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million or so undocumented immigrants in the U.S. Other aspects of their planned bill include an overhaul of the immigration visa program to include, among other things, more visas for farm workers, and increased border security.
Sanchez spoke to the Guardian about the Gang of Eight’s proposals and the position of Cornyn and Cruz on immigration reform at a news conference Equal Voice held at the LUPE headquarters in San Juan on Wednesday.
“The fact that a pathway to citizenship has been included in the Gang of Eight’s proposals shows how far we have come. It is a result of the decisive role Latino and immigrant voters had on the outcome of the 2012 presidential election,” Sanchez said. “But, just because the proposals include citizenship does not mean our battle is won. We have a lot of work ahead of us to get the legislation passed; a lot of work.”
Sanchez said converting Cornyn and Cruz into supporters of comprehensive immigration reform will take a lot of work by a lot of different people. “It will need us to pay a visit to their offices, both in Washington, D.C. and their offices around Texas, in order to have meaningful dialogue. It will take a lot of prayers in churches around the state. And it will take the help of local law enforcement officials.”
Sanchez said Equal Voice is working with police chiefs across the Rio Grande Valley on a letter that will be delivered to Cornyn. The letter will say that police officers do not want to do the work of Border Patrol and want to see a pathway to citizenship so that immigrants come “out of the shadows” and become productive members of society. “We have been visiting the police chiefs and they are going to help. We are asking them to sign a letter that we will take to Sen. Cornyn. And, we want to have a news conference with the police chiefs and Cornyn,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez said Cornyn may be easier persuade to back immigration reform than Cruz, because senior Texas senator’s staff has been telling reporters he is not necessarily opposed to the work done by the Gang of Eight. Sanchez said if Cornyn can be persuaded to line up with Equal Voice it will be easier, politically, for Cruz to do so.
“We do want to meet with Senator Cruz also. We are waiting for him to open his Rio Grande Valley office and then we will have a vigil outside the office,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez said church leaders who support immigration reform have agreed to hold prayers for Cornyn and Cruz. “Ministers and pastors in churches big and small across Texas are going to pray for them, that they have a conversional heart and accept our position, that they see the light,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez said she was in Washington, D.C., last week and made a point of going to Cornyn’s office. She said she was not able to see the senator himself but did have a good conversation with his staff members.
“We want to start the dialogue. Working with immigration advocates across Texas, we plan to visit Cornyn’s offices all over Texas. We really have to push hard with our two senators. We need their votes so much. We need to step it up,” Sanchez said.
Recently, Cornyn introduced legislation with U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul to beef up border security. The bill is called the Border Security Results Act of 2013. According to Cornyn and McCaul, the Department of Homeland Security has never produced a comprehensive strategy to gain operational control of the nation’s borders. And, they say, it still does not have measures to determine if security is improving. The lawmakers say this would change under their bill.
Asked to comment on the Border Security Results Act of 2013, Sanchez said all the evidence shows DHS is having a greater impact along the border. “We have had record investments in border security and fewer apprehensions of immigrants so it is not true to say DHS does not have operational control,” Sanchez said.
“We would argue more resources need to be placed at the ports of entry, rather than the desert or on the river. The majority of illegal drugs and human trafficking occurs at the ports of entry,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez said the federal government’s own numbers show that a lot less immigrants are trying to cross the border. “We are in a much better place than a few years ago. And, we are spending at record levels on the border. We need to concentrate on trade with Mexico. Senators Cornyn and Cruz need to understand, we do not need more militarization of the border.”