Welcome to the Washington D.C. Echo Chamber


When in Washington D.C., I love nothing more than to go to Capitol Hill. I love the general carnival-like atmosphere that law making exudes. Even if it means I have to wear a business suit and fortify my aching feet with band aids to get through the day in dress heels. I love the throngs of constituents from all over the country dressed in matching t-shirts – yesterday it was nurses in red t-shirts (Nurses Have Heart!)

We all look dazed as we try to navigate the labyrinth-like halls of the capitol office buildings. Hearings on every important matter from the climate to the war in Afghanistan are all taking place at once.  The capitol staffers whisk by us with an air of purpose and slight disdain for just how clueless us out-of-towners look – disheveled, clutching maps to our chests.

Yesterday, I put on my power suit and went to the Capitol to attend a press conference on border security. It was by no means the media event of the day. In another much larger conference room Senator Kerry and Senator Lieberman announced their new climate bill – this time sans their lone Republican supporter Lindsey Graham.  Their hearing was thronged with media – and rightly so.

In our corner of Capitol Hill, we had a handful of media, mostly Spanish language TV such as Telemundo and the Spanish-language CNN. The press conference was sponsored by the National Immigration Forum, a D.C.-based immigrant rights organization. Their invited speakers were John David Franz, mayor of Hidalgo, which borders the Rio Grande, Nan Walden, an Arizona farmer and business leader, William Moore, representing the Texas Border Coalition and Tucson City Councilwoman Karen Uhlich.

Democratic Congressman Raul Grijalva of Tucson was also invited but didn’t make it to the press conference.

It’s a pity that more English-language media wasn’t there because what they had to say was important.

“Border security shouldn’t be about fences and the National Guard,” said Ali Noorani, director of the forum. “The focus should be on accountability and putting the right resources in the right place.”

The cornerstone of border security should be immigration reform. Instead border security is being meted out based on fear and political pandering, not on reality, was the message of the panel. There are no accountability measures in place to see if all of the border security money heaped on the border is actually working. There are no evaluations being done on whether we need the National Guard or Predator Drones for instance. And there certainly aren’t any public meetings on the border seeking input.

Noorani said their hope is that when border security is discussed later this year during appropriations, accountability and the framework they are introducing for responsible immigration reform will be adopted.

The Obama Administration needs to take the lead, said Noorani, and not leave it up to Congress.

Mayor Franz told the handful of media that his small town (just south of McAllen) was “just a stone’s throw from the violence in Mexico.” Despite the close proximity “from my community’s standpoint there is no spillover violence.” Franz said. He said there hadn’t been a murder in 20 years and only one kidnapping, carried out by a sexual predator from California.

We don’t need the National Guard, he told the press. We need to make it easier for law-abiding citizens to cross the border.

The D.C. media looked at Mayor Franz as if he was puro loco. Any cable TV news channel or national newspaper will tell you the border is soaked in blood. It’s full of crazed cartels, illegal immigrants, and terrorists behind every corner. The border is the nation’s basket case, for gods sake. And here’s this small-town border mayor telling them he hasn’t had a single murder in his town in 20 years.

“You mean to tell me, that you’re saying the border is safe?” asked an incredulous reporter from Telemundo.

Franz told them there was cartel violence in Mexico, but not on the U.S. side of the border.

William Moore, speaking on behalf of the Texas Border Coalition, which includes border elected officials and business leaders, said his organization had repeatedly asked for more personnel and technology at the ports of entry, but could get no traction in Congress.

The GAO has called staffing and infrastructure at the ports of entry inadequate to the task of protecting America. The TBC estimates the ports need at least 5,000 additional personnel and $5 billion in funding for infrastructure.

“If the legislators aren’t on board it can’t pass,” Moore said.

Right now Texas’ legislators are arguing with Governor Perry over who’s given the most money for border security. Mid-term elections are growing near and fear is in the air. You can feel it in the halls of Capitol Hill and in Austin. The paralysis is already setting in.

Fear is the primary policy maker these days. So, the biggest border hawk wins. No one talks about how the border security money is being spent, and whether it’s even working.  Just keep spending it. Bring on the Predator Drones, the National Guard and Senator DeMint’s 700 miles of border wall. Build the wall and build it higher!

The violence in Mexico needs to be stopped. Will a border wall, Predator Drones and the National Guard stop the violence? No, but it sure as hell will get people elected in November.

As the press conference was winding down, CNN’s reporter asked the panel “Immigration has become so politicized. When you come to Washington, do you feel like anyone is listening to you?”

I know I’m ending this on a pessimistic note. Sorry, I got sucked into the D.C. echo chamber. You can fly all the way from McAllen to D.C., like Mayor Franz did,  to make your voice heard. But it doesn’t necessarily mean anyone’s listening.