The release of the report comes a day before markup is scheduled to begin on the border enforcement provisions of the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act.”
A major concern for these stakeholders is the lack of consultation with border communities when it comes to setting border policy. Another concern, and the purpose of the report, is that there is a prevailing false narrative about the border. This report aims to set the record straight while offering a vision for the future of the border and the rest of the U.S.
As the amendment process to the current immigration reform proposal in the Senate moves forward, it is the hope of those at the border that their voices will be heard in the debate. The report is a collection of those voices and offers an alternative to the aggressive expansion of the already-militarized border enforcement system. Instead we can choose to prioritize community security, development in border regions and the protection of human rights of all who live at the border.
There are untruths out there about our border region that ultimately make it difficult for entrepreneurs to conduct business, for religious communities to serve as they see fit and for local and federal law agencies to keep the public safe. But these untruths also make it difficult for anyone to seek out rational policies for the border.
Together or independently, many of us had already tried to promote rational border policies. So far, those efforts have been stymied by rhetoric and political grandstanding. We see the evidence of this when Texas Gov. Rick Perry tries to underscore his political position that the border is not secure by saying that a car bomb has gone off in downtown El Paso. Despite this statement being completely false, it was quickly and widely reported. The sad fact is that the car bomb story, however false, fits the media and political narrative about life at the border.
We could all agree that we cannot just aim for impacting policy discussions. We have to start at the stories people are telling about us — the border narrative. And we came together as border community members and religious communities, border academics, local elected officials and law enforcement to face this challenge.
The Border Network for Human Rights asked representatives from all along the border including religious communities, border academics, local elected officials and law enforcement to gather a group of their peers to write a new narrative of the border. These documents represent each sector’s new vision to challenge the current, prevailing narrative.
It’s our belief that the border is a window into the future of the U.S. This is not just a demographic argument. We believe that policies tested at the border will one day make it into the interior. Whether those are policies of criminalization and militarization or policies of community development and the protection of peoples’ human rights remains to be seen.
Acompananos a cualquiera de nuestros foros Comunitarios en El Paso y el sur de Nuevo México esta semana para aprender sobre el nuevo proyecto de ley de reforma migratoria y lo que significa para nuestra comunidad. Los foros son gratis y abiertos al público.
En Montana Vista
(Para mas información en Montana Vista, llama a Gabriela a 915-494-4213 o Luis a 915-219-0714)
Martes 30 de Abril
Centro Socorro Ramírez
106 Peyton Road
Jueves 2 de Mayo
San Elizario Parish
1556 San Elizario Rd
San Elizario, Tx.
Viernes 3 de Mayo
621 Agua de Lluvia
Agua Dulce, TX
Sábado 4 de Mayo
Centro de Derechos Humanos Laura Aguilar
3671 Fawn Drive
Montana Vista TX
En Area Central de El Paso
(Para mas información en Area Central de El Paso, llama a Martina a 915-253-7412)
Viernes 3 de Mayo
Biblioteca Central – Salon Maud Sullivan
501 N. Oregon
El Paso Texas
Iglesia Cristo Rey
El Paso Texas
Sabado 4 de Mayo
9068 Socorro (esquina con Zaragoza)
El Paso, Texas
En Sur de Nuevo México
(Para mas información en Sur de Nuevo México, llama a Claudia a 575-520-8851 o Lourdes a 575-805-2698)
Lunes 29 de Abril
Iglesia San Patricio
7075 Second St.
Jueves 2 de Mayo
1102 West Way Blvd.
Iglesia San Antonio
224 Lincoln St.
Viernes 3 de Mayo
Iglesia de Dios
325 N Mesquite
Las Cruces, NM
After more than 25 years of intense advocacy, we have never been closer to immigration reform than we are right now. The high turnout of Latino voters in the last election has suddenly prioritized the issue with politicians from both major parties. In fact, a bill is expected to be filed by the end of this week or next.
It’s time for a new enforcement strategy at the border that reflects our shared American values of accountability and oversight, respect for human and civil rights, and fiscal responsibility.
Unfortunately, much of what we are hearing out of D.C. is the same old “enforcement first” argument. What we aren’t hearing is that “enforcement first” has in fact already been done several times over at the border. An unprecedented amount of unaccountable immigration enforcement has been implemented in the last 20 years to “seal the border” and “crack down” on undocumented immigrants. In 2012 alone, the United States spent $18 billion on immigration enforcement with $11 billion going to the border.
In 2007 politicians asked for 4 drones and 105 radar and camera towers to scan the border. Today, there are 10 drones at the border and 300 towers. There are also more than 650 miles of fencing and walls erected at our southern border, and Customs and Border Protection personnel expanded to over 22,000 agents in the last 10 years. This expansion makes it the largest enforcement institution in the United States, and yet we do not have immigration reform.
So far border residents, including local business owners, and law enforcement, have not been considered as partners in making the border region more secure. This must change. After years of work, Border Network for Human Rights has a model for how this new enforcement strategy would look.
Our vision for federal border policies is that they would create a safe, free, and prosperous region for those who live and work at the border. We believe that the way to achieve this by embracing an essential American value—accountability. The same oversight, transparency, and fiscal responsibility that we demand of other government systems must also apply to the U.S. government’s largest and most costly law enforcement system—the border and immigration enforcement system.
Over the years, Border Network has developed what we call the “El Paso Model” for border security. This model makes border residents partners in national and community security rather than the targets of it. The name comes from what the Border Network has been able to achieve in El Paso through working with people from a broad cross-section of border life.
For example, through building a relationship of understanding and respect between border communities and our local immigration enforcement agencies, specifically the El Paso Border Patrol sector, we have reduced the incidence and severity of mistreatment by federal agents in our region over the last 10 years. In fact, it was through this dialogue with the Border Patrol that the El Paso Sector became the only Border Patrol Sector to currently have a non-uniformed community liaison officer. This development represented an important victory for both human rights and security in the region, proving that these two priorities need not be in competition with each other.
The El Paso model of engagement and dialogue doesn’t just apply to federal agencies. The Border Network for Human Rights has replicated this same model with local police chiefs and sheriffs. Through years of work with local law enforcement in El Paso, their agencies changed their strategies of community policing to specifically prohibit officers from acting as immigration agents.
Taking all of this into consideration, it becomes clear why El Paso has repeatedly been named the safest U.S. city for its size. When enforcement agencies are accountable, community security and civil rights are both protected. This goal and the values of participation and accountability in enforcement strategies are at the heart of what Border Network is fighting for.
Once Congress finishes this year’s debate on immigration reform, we will enter a new phase of discussion and policy development on enforcement and criminalization. The question is whether or not enforcement will continue to operate without accountability, oversight, or input from those who are impacted by border policies. The lesson from El Paso is that the battle against unaccountable enforcement and criminalization can only be won by an organized community with a diverse group allies in business, faith, and law enforcement.
No matter what comes of immigration reform this year, the need for enforcement reform will only become more prevalent as the United States enters a post-immigration reform era.
Yesterday the bipartisan group of senators known as the “Gang of 8″ released their comprehensive immigration reform bill that will allow for undocumented immigrants to apply for permanent legal status within 10 years and eventually for U.S. citizenship. The bill is a major milestone in the change needed in our immigration system and a testament to our American values of fairness and equality. Nonetheless, issues remain. We cannot ignore the serious threats to civil and human rights that are inherent in the call for new border triggers and continued unaccountable spending on border enforcement. Immigration reform may finally be within reach. It’s now time for enforcement reform.
The debate on immigration reform is always met with demands for an air-tight seal on the border. While immigration reform has failed multiple times, every recent demand for ramped up border enforcement has been met. The Senate bill plans to spend $3 billion more in an already bloated $11 billion budget for border enforcement intended for even more fencing, military technology and agents between ports of entry. This is misguided and irresponsible. The rapid expansion of military technology and the number of federal agents at the border has created an environment of abuse against border residents where agencies spend and act without consequences and without oversight.
Consider that in 2007 lawmakers from both parties, led by Republicans, asked for drones, radar and camera towers, miles of fencing and more deportations. Not only have these demands been met, many of them have been exceeded. When they asked for 4 drones to scan the border in 2007, they got 10. When they asked for 21,000 agents on the ground, they got 22,000. In fact, President Barack Obama has deported almost 2 million people, breaking a record previously held by Dwight Eisenhower. This administration has brought the U.S. to a high water mark on spending at the border, with a jaw-dropping $11 billion spent last year alone. Yet sadly, protecting the human rights of border crossers remains elusive.
We need to ensure that our American values are incorporated in the midst of this rapid immigration enforcement expansion. We hold dear our values of checks, balances, and accountability. It is a part of our political ethos that our government and our officials must answer to “We the People” for their policies and their actions. This value is what was at the root of both the Tea Party and Occupy movements. Although the targets of their outrage were different, their emotion was the same: You answer to us.
This is exactly is what is missing at the border. The U.S. enforcement strategy at the border is not lacking in manpower or money. In fact, Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) is the nation’s single largest law enforcement agency. But it operates without a single independent oversight mechanism. This wouldn’t fly for any other federal agency, but it is the natural consequence of a strategy of unmitigated escalation for border enforcement.
Recent polling commissioned by the Campaign for Accountable, Moral and Balanced Immigration Overhaul (CAMBIO) shows that the vast majority of Americans want border enforcement that is targeted to real threats like drug smugglers and human traffickers, instead of using our precious resources to go after people who want to work and raise a family in the U.S. An even bigger majority, 95 percent, want to make sure that border agents are accountable.
That’s why immigration reform isn’t enough. The U.S., particularly those living near the border, needs enforcement reform. A system for bringing the people who live and work at the border to the table is the way forward. They have a personal stake in ensuring not only border security, but human security at the border. They deserve a voice.
They are community members, business owners, local law enforcement, elected officials, religious leaders, academics and others who would be able to oversee the impacts of border security programs and policies. A group of such individuals would assess how border enforcement impacts human and civil rights and whether the policies are fiscally responsible. It would include the northern and southern borders and have the ability to make recommendations to Congress and the DHS secretary — as well as the president — for how to improve border operations.
That is why the Border Network for Human Rights advocated for a “Border Oversight Task Force.” In fact, some iteration of this task force has been in the three latest attempts at immigration reform. But when the bills failed, they took this badly needed accountability body with them. The Border Oversight Task Force is a much-needed accountability mechanism; it will ensure that the American values of civil rights, transparency, responsible spending and accountability are brought to our border enforcement system.
Immigration reform must address the lack of oversight and accountability in the current border enforcement system. No matter what the “Gang of 8″ proposed, the people deserve to know what programs their tax dollars are supporting at the border and how those programs are impacting the rights and lives of the people who live there.
The Border Network for Human Rights is one of the leading immigration reform and human rights advocacy organizations in the U.S. BNHR has a membership of more than 800 families, or close to 4,000 individuals, in West Texas and Southern New Mexico.
Accountable Border Security
Comprehensive Immigration Reform
Promotion and Protection of Civil and Human Rights
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