BROWNSVILLE, May 1 - Congressman Rubén Hinojosa says he has been approached by a group wanting to add a thousand extra beds in prisons in La Villa and Falfurrias.
Hinojosa revealed this at the conclusion of forum on immigration reform at UT-Brownsville. The inference was that more undocumented immigrants would be housed in the prisons. He and U.S. Rep. Luis Gutiérrez, who was the keynote speaker at the forum, believe there will be less need for such prisons if immigration reform is passed and immigrants can go back and forth to Mexico through a guest worker program.
“I want to leave as part of the record that last week I had a group of gentlemen who came to my office and asked if I would support that they expand prisons in La Villa and prisons in Falfurrias with an additional 1,000 beds in those prisons,” Hinojosa said.
“I need for you to know that in the last two decades that the United States has built more prisons… there are more beds in prisons than we have students attending colleges and the vast majority, 90 percent, are men and young teenagers and young adults. The system is broken when you have that comparison.”
Hinojosa said Texas has the most beds in prisons in United States. “And, here they are asking for my support to apply for another 2,000 beds. The system is broken. They said many of them are undocumented folks they are picking up.”
Hinojosa said the work of the Gang of Six in the House and the Gang of Eight in the Senate is aimed at repairing the immigration system. “The work they are doing is absolutely amazing,” Hinojosa said, acknowledging that passing immigration reform will need bipartisan support and for this to happen compromises will need to be made by both Democrats and Republicans.
Hinojosa, chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, made his remarks about more beds in prisons after listening to Gutiérrez talk about the costs paid by undocumented immigrants living in the United States. Gutiérrez remarked that the cost of coming out of the shadows and applying to become a legal resident and later a citizen, once a reform bill is passed and signed into law, will be high. Immigrants will have to pass a background check and pay a fine and pay to apply. However, he said this pales when the compared to the cost of living life as an undocumented immigrant.
“What is the cost of someone getting deported from the United States and trying to get back here - the cost of their life, the cost of hiring coyote?” Gutiérrez said. He gave an example of immigrants winding up in a basement in Phoenix and coyotes continuing to exploit their families.
“Do you know how much money is spent and how many billions of dollars are spent just protecting immigrants in legal fees, in fines, in taking away their cars? I want to end this once and for all,” Gutiérrez said. “I want them to come out of the shadows, I want to - like the DREAMers - give them a work authorization so that when the police stop them they say here is my driver’s license, here is my insurance, I am right with the law, don’t bother me. I am working and I am not doing anything wrong,” Gutiérrez said.
Gutiérrez said U.S. citizens have to understand the cost of being an undocumented immigrant.
“I want you to think for a moment that you had to fear being pulled over by the police knowing that will probably mean you won’t see your wife and your children and that you will be locked up in a cell and deported? What is the cost of that?” Gutiérrez said.
“Do you know the millions of children that are going through all kinds of traumatic experiences? There are kids who unfortunately know what it is for their best friend to literally disappear from their classroom. There are churches where parishioners who know what it is for a family who have sat in that pew for ten, 15 years, to disappear because of the deportation. There is an extreme cost to that.”
In addition to the human toll, Gutiérrez spoke about border security, a pathway to citizenship, and a verification system so the U.S. government knows who is being hired. He said he supports a guest worker program but that one cannot be implemented that is similar to the old Bracero Program. He said Mexican workers were exploited by unscrupulous employers under that program.
Asked by a reporter what metric would be used to measure the effectiveness of border security, Gutiérrez did not give a specific number or percentage. However, in answer to a later question he did say the metric would have to be achievable and realistic.
Gutiérrez acknowledged that the 1986 immigration reforms basically created an amnesty for undocumented immigrants. He said that will not happen with the reforms being worked on this year. He added that the current situation, of immigrants entering the country and living in the U.S. unlawfully cannot continue.
Gutiérrez was invited to speak at UT-Brownsville and at a later rally at UT-Pan American by Hinojosa and Congressman Filemon Vela, a Democrat from Brownsville. Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez said he has not met anyone with the passion for immigration reform that Gutiérrez has. He presented the visiting congressman with a symbolic Key to the City of Brownsville. Martinez added that he believes immigration reform will be passed by Congress before the August recess.