McALLEN, RGV – Members of the Texas Border Coalition say they are saddened and disappointed to learn U.S. Sen. John Cornyn’s border security amendment to the Senate immigration reform bill has been tabled.

“Hearing the announcement, you feel like the rug is being pulled from under you. For us border communities, it is a big blow,” said San Juan Mayor San Juanita Sanchez.

Sanchez and other border leaders learned of the amendment’s demise during the TBC’s quarterly meeting at the McAllen Convention Center on Thursday. Ana Maria Garcia, Cornyn’s district director in the Rio Grande Valley, interrupted proceedings to break the news. She had learned that the amendment had been tabled via a text from Cornyn’s Washington, D.C. office.

The Senate vote to table the amendment was 54 to 43.

The Texas Border Coalition met in McAllen on Thursday. Pictured left to right are Monica Weisberg-Stewart, J.D. Salinas, Elizabeth Lippincott, and Guillermo Ramirez. (Photo: RGG/Steve Taylor)
The Texas Border Coalition met in McAllen on Thursday. Pictured left to right are Monica Weisberg-Stewart, J.D. Salinas, Elizabeth Lippincott, and Guillermo Ramirez. (Photo: RGG/Steve Taylor)

Garcia said that with the amendment being tabled, there would be less funding for local law enforcement, less Customs and Border Protection officers, less investment in infrastructure at land ports of entry, and fewer public-private partnerships to reduce port of entry wait times.

“Everything, for ports of entry, was just washed out,” Garcia said at the TBC meeting. “We were not given the ability for an up or down vote. It was tabled. As far as what is next, we are not certain. I do not believe we saw this coming.”

Under Cornyn’s amendment to S.744, the Department of Homeland Security and others would have to certify that certain “triggers” are met before undocumented immigrants can start to become legal residents. There would have to be 100 percent situational awareness, with monitoring capability at every segment of the southern border. That would have been difficult because in the Big Bend area, for example, Border Patrol’s radios do not work. There would also have to be operational control, which Cornyn defined as at least a 90 percent apprehension rate along the southern border. There would also have to be a biometric exit system at all air and sea ports, and a nationwide E-Verify system.

What the TBC particularly liked about the Cornyn amendment was a provision that $1 billion per year be spent over six years for land port of entry infrastructure improvements and personnel. TBC members also liked the fact that CBP officers would have been increased by 10,000 over five years. The group also supported Cornyn’s efforts to get DHS to enter into public-private partnerships to reduce port of entry wait times.

Just as Cornyn’s amendment was being tabled, details started to emerge of another Republican amendment to the Senate immigration reform bill that was acceptable to the so-called Gang of Eight U.S. senators. The amendment by U.S. Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee and U.S. Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota would almost double the current number of Border Patrol agents to 40,000 and require completion of 700 miles of border fencing. This would have to happen before the 11 million or so undocumented immigrants in the U.S. could start to become legalized. The cost of the additional Border Patrol agents would cost about $30 billion. “It is almost overkill,” said Corker.

Fernando Garcia, executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights, denounced the Corker-Hoeven amendment. “This is an outrageous plan that was struck without consulting with people who live and work on the border. It only adds to a system that we all agree is dysfunctional and accountable to the people,” said Garcia, who is currently on a caravan across Texas to boost support for comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship.

“The most obscene element of the plan is that it would create a militarized border between allied nations where there is no military conflict. We remind the senators that more than six million people live on the U.S. side of the border and this plan puts their rights, lives and prosperity at risk,” Garcia added.

TBC members, meanwhile, say they are very disappointed Cornyn’s amendment was tabled.

“It is very sad news that we could not garner any more support for the amendment,” said Adan Farias, the incoming chairman of the TBC and mayor pro-tem of Pharr. “I was concerned the amendment was doomed to failure. There was too much in the mix.”

Monica Weisberg-Stewart, chair of the TBC’s immigration and border security committee, said the demise of Cornyn’s amendment showed just how out of touch Washington, D.C., is with the southern border. She said she is not disappointed with Cornyn’s efforts. “He was fighting for our state.” Rather, she said, she was disappointed that Congress fails to understand the true needs of the country.

“Constantly, Washington is missing the boat on comprehending the true needs of the border. They seem to make policy on sound bites and what people in mid-America think instead of truly comprehending the real needs,” Weisberg-Stewart said.

“Empirical data shows the real needs are at our ports of entry. This is where trade, travel and security really happen. Remember 9/11? Those terrorists entered our country through our ports of entry. They did not swim the Rio Grande.”

Weisberg-Stewart pointed to a General Accounting Office report which shows CBP is 6,000 short in manpower and $6 billion short in infrastructure. Asked what she thought of a doubling of Border Patrol agents, Weisberg-Stewart said the present level, 21,000, was sufficient but that the agents need more technological help.

“An additional 20,000 Border Patrol agents? It is like putting more money into fencing, it is ridiculous,” Weisberg-Stewart said. “You do things more strategically. We are not against giving more money to Border Patrol but it should be based on what the needs are, not just throwing out figures. They are spending money in the wrong places just for show. We have the right amount of Border Patrol agents but they need more technology.”

Mayor Sanchez of San Juan wondered whether, with hindsight, it might have been better had Cornyn pushed his way to the front of the debate on immigration reform and border security earlier, perhaps by becoming a member of the Gang of Eight.

“Maybe he could have balanced things out and got a few more things for us,” Sanchez said. “The fact that his amendment has been shot down is very disappointing. But, we are resilient on the border. Our people are resilient, so we continue to unite. It is forcing us to unite. The tabling of the amendment speaks to the need for the Texas Border Coalition to grow.”