SAN JUAN, RGV – Congressman Filemon Vela and the RGV Equal Voice Network have issued statements on immigration reform ahead of legislation set to be introduced soon by the so-called ‘Gang of Eight’ U.S. senators.

Vela, a Brownsville Democrat and member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said opponents of immigration reform are seeking to hold the process “hostage” by insisting on a finding of border security on the U.S.-Mexico border.

“Attaching this condition to a comprehensive immigration plan is nothing more than a plain attempt to thwart reform efforts,” Vela argued, in a news release. “In other words, those who would condition immigration reform on a finding of border security simply oppose a pathway to citizenship for 11 million unauthorized individuals currently living in this country.”

Vela did not say who the opponents of immigration are. However, he was also critical of some who support immigration reform. And, be reiterated a theme he first articulated in the Guardian – that cross- border has been lost.

“No less ashamed should be those who suggest that the South Texas border is secure under the guise of accomplishing comprehensive immigration reform. They are not talking about the same border that we live on in South Texas,” Vela said.

“Killings on the Mexican side of the border continue. Without question, Mexican citizens have flocked to this country for simple fear of life. The South Texas border culture has been destroyed, as once routine visits to our Mexican border towns have come to a screeching halt.”

LUPE members carried signs saying Reforma Ahora (Reform Now) and Education not Deportation at their Cesar Chavez rally and march.
LUPE members carried signs saying Reforma Ahora (Reform Now) and Education not Deportation at their Cesar Chavez rally and march.

Vela said the United States and Mexico “need to do more” to make Mexico safe for its own citizens to live in and for Americans to visit. “A cooperative effort to accomplish this objective is critical to creating a safe and prosperous border,” he said.

The RGV Equal Voice Network represents ten non-profit groups that assist colonia residents in the Rio Grande Valley. The network has made comprehensive immigration reform a top priority. La Unión del Pueblo Entero is one of the ten groups in the network. Last weekend more than 1,000 LUPE members and supporters participated in a Cesar Chavez march and rally that focused on immigration reform. In addition, LUPE community organizer Martha Sanchez visited Washington, D.C., this week to attend another a national rally for immigration reform. John-Michael Torres, a spokesman for LUPE, issued a statement to the Guardian on immigration reform and border security on behalf of Equal Voice.
“We need to deal with our borders in a rational way. Right now, we are pouring billions into securing vast, hostile desert areas. At the same time, the staffing and resources at our ports of entry have lagged behind. These legal entry points account for most of the illegal movement of drugs, money, weapons and people into and out of the U.S., and yet they have been left behind in the record breaking spending at the border,” Torres said.

“As long as these ports are dysfunctional, border economies will be choked off and real threats to national security will slip through the cracks. For that reason, resources must be devoted to ports of entry rather than additional border militarization.”

Torres said that in order to focus attention on “real criminal activity,” which he listed as drug running, weapons smuggling and human trafficking, any immigration reform bill must rein in programs like Operation Streamline, which criminalize immigration. “Through programs that criminalize immigration, such as Operation Streamline, U.S. Customs and Border Protection is increasing prosecution of laborers, instead of increasing drug and weapon smuggling and human trafficking-related law enforcement efforts—the cartels’ main industries,” he said.

Torres pointed to a January 2010 report by the Warren Institute of UC Berkley which, he said, demonstrated the impact of Operation Streamline on law enforcement. “The report shows how devoting increased resources toward prosecuting non-violent border crossers have actually taken away resources from operations focused on drug and weapons smuggling and human trafficking. Courts are forced to prosecute illegal border crossers, leaving cases related to drugs, weapons and human trafficking to fall increasingly by the wayside,” Torres said.

The so-called ‘Gang of Eight’ senators Republican Sens. Marco Rubio, Jeff Flake, John McCain and Lindsey Graham, and Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin, Michael Bennet and Bob Menendez. Details on what their immigration plan will look like have been sketchy but are thought to include a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million or so undocumented immigrants that live and work in the United States.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Michael McCaul, R-Austin, have introduced a new border security bill. Cornyn is chief whip for the Republicans in the Senate. McCaul is chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. The Border Security Results Act of 2013 (H.R. 1417) “finally develops a comprehensive national strategy and verifiable metrics, so that Americans see lasting results on our borders,” McCaul said, in a newsletter to constituents.

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 Administration’s current ad hoc border approach, which includes more than a dozen strategies and 22 independent units directing border security operations, has resulted in government waste and the continuation of illegal migration. Sending large amounts of resources to certain border sectors has simply pushed illegal border crossers to other areas, as we have witnessed in the Rio Grande Valley,” McCaul said, in his newsletter.

Cornyn and McCaul offered specifics on what their bill would do. They said it:

• Incorporates advanced technology to get a complete picture of the security of the entire border for full situational awareness
• Employs this data to properly allocate manpower and other resources
• Creates new metrics to define progress based off the number of apprehensions relative to the total number of illegal crossings

Cornyn said grafted his Cross Border Trade Enhancement Act of 2013 bill into the Border Security Results Act of 2013 bill. The Cross Border Trade Enhancement Act of 2013 bill, which was introduced earlier this year, encourages public-private partnerships to boost staffing and make infrastructure improvements at U.S. ports of entry.

Cornyn said not knowing who is coming across that nation’s borders threaten economic and national security. He said Americans have seen that promises of border security coupled with immigration reform have gone unfulfilled in the past. This legislation, he said, ensures that border security will be realized.

“Since 2010, the Administration has failed to provide a metric for determining border security, yet they continue to claim that the border is secure. By requiring the Administration to come up with a clear measurement of security, as well as a timeline for development and implementation, we can ensure that our national security policy is based on real results, and not baseless claims,” Cornyn said.

“We’re committed to learning from past failures, and are setting standards for significantly lowering wait times at ports of entry on the border and significantly higher rates of apprehension for those who enter the country illegally.”

Jesse J. Hereford, chairman of the Border Trade Alliance, said he supports the Cornyn-McCaul legislation. He said the Border Security Results Act “wisely shines a spotlight” on security efforts at the ports of entry.

“By directing DHS to report to Congress on the Department’s efforts not only to increase security but to analyze its staffing needs at the ports and to assess resources necessary to markedly reduce wait times at the ports for legitimate trade and travelers, this legislation stands to be a catalyst for real reform on the borders. The Border Trade Alliance endorses this important legislation which has a goal of reducing border wait times by 50 percent,” Hereford said.

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples said he, too, backs the Border Security Results Act.

“Landowners are suffering under the daily threat from violent drug cartels while President Obama and his administration continue to falsely proclaim the border as safe,” Staples said. “Representative Michael McCaul and Senator John Cornyn have taken a strong step in restoring the sovereignty of America with this legislation to enhance border security. No Texan and no American should ever have to accept a dangerously porous border as the status quo. Our nation needs action.”