Holding Border Security Hostage

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I know I’ve said it before. But, geez, I can’t wait until mid-term elections are over. I’m hoping after November this nation can have a more civil and sane conversation on immigration reform. Politico reports yet again that neither Democrats or Republicans have the intestinal fortitude to bring up immigration reform until probably January of 2011 when the next legislative session begins.

My fear is that Democrats will lose the majority in Congress in November, and then we’ll really have a political deep freeze. We’ll be stuck in another congressional quagmire over immigration reform and the poisonous type of SB 1070 legislation passed in Arizona will fill the vacuum.

Eventually, we’ll have immigration checkpoints at the entrance of every state. I’ll have to carry my passport and apply for a visa to drive through Arizona.  Okay I digress, but you get the picture.

Call me naïve. A month or two ago I didn’t think legislation like SB 1070 would go far in other states, including Texas. Sure, we’d have a few of the usual suspects: Republicans Debbie Riddle and Leo Berman, who trot out divisive legislation every session that goes nowhere. Oh, but those were the good ‘ol days. Republican Senator Russell Pearce was Arizona’s Leo Berman and look at him now.

The problem is immigration is an irresistible hot button issue that politicians can’t resist (the Texas GOP just recently adopted immigrant-bashing as part of its platform). It’s a single, emotional wedge issue that drives voters nuts and brings them out in droves. Folks, don’t worry about the Gulf of Mexico, the bank foreclosures and that states are going bankrupt – see that guy over there with the leaf blower – it’s his fault! Go get him!

Arizona Republican Senator John Kyl is using this tactic nicely to his advantage. Just listen to the gasps and moans in this video of tea partiers in Phoenix as Kyl tells them that Obama is holding border security hostage until Republicans, like Kyl, get behind comprehensive immigration reform. “Amnesty,” oh “amnesty” moan the tea partiers in dismay at Obama’s treachery.

Only the White House said Obama never told Kyl such a thing. It’s hard to imagine Obama giving Kyl that kind of pitch perfect ammunition to roil Kyl’s conservative voting base.  And it’s not like Obama is soft on securing the border. This current administration has installed checkpoints to look for guns and money heading south, continued recruiting BP agents and DHS personnel, sent 1,200 National Guard soldiers and is going to throw another $500 million down the border security tubes. Not to mention the Obama Administration is on target to deport more people than Bush ever did, which is alarming to many immigrant advocates.

What I really want is for Kyl to explain what a secure border looks like in his world? Are we talking Berlin Wall or Gaza Strip?  Are we talking mass deportations? He proposes to expand Operation Streamline, which would jail every person who crosses the border without documents. The program has cost taxpayers millions and bogged down the judicial system so that judges spend less time prosecuting drug trafficking and organized crime. It’s also never been definitively shown to reduce illegal immigration.

And if you are going to “secure the border” what’s wrong with fixing the broken immigration system at the same time?  More than half of the undocumented people living in the United States overstayed their visas, for instance. They didn’t come here illegally.  But it’s hard to reduce fixing the complicated and Byzantine immigration system down into a 30 or 60-second sound bite for a TV campaign pitch. It just doesn’t have that same John Wayne appeal that Predator drones and National Guard soldiers will give you when you’re trying to win the hearts and minds of fickle voters.

But wouldn’t it be nice if all of the politicking stopped and we really had a genuine in depth discussion on how to fix this mess? A discussion that didn’t involve empty rhetoric and race-baiting. Naive indeed.

Melissa del Bosque joined The Texas Observer staff in 2008. She specializes in reporting on immigration and the U.S.-Mexico border. Her work has been published in national and international publications including TIME magazine and the Mexico City-based Nexos magazine. Melissa is a 2014-15 Lannan Fellow at The Investigative Fund.