How Do You Fix Our Broken Immigration System? Why Not Ask the People Who Live Along the Border

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While members in Washington, D.C. fight over the fate of undocumented immigrants living in the country and further polarize the issue of immigration, communities living along the border are forced to live with the everyday consequences of their actions (or lack of).

This week, The Washington Post covered issues communities living along the border continue to face while the vast majority of members in Congress simply have no clue what it is like to live in the region, or bother to take into account what people in the region do not wish to continue to see happen to their communities.

“During the immigration debate, myths about our border region have been spread by those who have no connection to or knowledge of our area.

“People need to rethink the border. As the representative for the district with the largest [area along to U.S.-Mexico border], I know the border region means jobs for the rest of the country. More than 400,000 jobs in Texas rely on our trade with Mexico. U.S. exports to Mexico exceeded our exports to Brazil, Russia, India and China combined,” said Congressman Gallego, (D-Alpine), during a conference held this summer on border economics.

How do you begin to fix our broken immigration system? Why not ask the people living along the border. The people that know immigration first-hand.

Read more after the jump.“The problem is, you've got this huge Congress and most of them don't live on the border and they're the ones who are going to decide what we do,” said El Paso County Sheriff Richard Wiles.

The freshman congressman from El Paso, Congressman “Beto” O'Rourke, agrees and has this to say about the problem:

“The border should be viewed as an opportunity, not a threat. More than five hundred billion dollars' worth of trade crosses our ports of entry every year and that helps support six million jobs nationwide.

Rather than militarize our border, we should realize our full economic potential and invest those resources to improve and modernize our ports of entry. To remain economically competitive, we need to update infrastructure at our ports of entry and hire more customs officers to expedite crossing times.

If we focus on the positive aspects the border has to offer, we will grow our economy and create jobs.”

Close to 20 percent of the $500 billion traded annually between the United States and Mexico passes through the El Paso ports of entry. In 2011, $87.9 billion worth of trade crossed the ports of entry between El Paso and Juarez, an 81 percent increase since 2009.

Locals predict that even more business and jobs would be created if Congress made it easier for guest workers to cross, or if undocumented immigrants were granted legal stay in the country.

“It would seem to me that the key to immigration reform is providing some type of work visas to shuffle out those who are just here to work and many times want to go home,” Wiles suggests. “They want to come, work, support their families and eventually go home.”

Another thing to keep in mind? Our ports. Officials believe the trade would increase even further if trucks carrying goods could cross faster. More than 100,000 jobs in the region rely on the lawful movement of people and goods and services between the U.S. and Mexico.

According to the Department of Commerce's International Trade Administration, the U.S. economy loses $1.5 billion in output, $400 million in wages, $200 million in tax revenues, and 6,700 jobs due to border wait times in El Paso. Economic losses are projected to increase to over $2.6 billion in output, $600 million in wages, $300 million in tax revenues and 11,500 jobs by 2017.

“Trade with Mexico is critical to the economies of all states, not just those on the US-Mexican Border, evidenced by the fact that last year alone, the US had $500 billion worth of trade with Mexico.

For immigration reform to truly be comprehensive, it must promote this trade through investment at our land-based ports of entry. I have a bill, Putting Our Resources Toward Security or 'PORTS' Act, which invests billions in funding for much-needed upgrades to port infrastructure and 5000 new Customs and Border Protection Officers – the officers in blue who work at the ports. These are the kinds of investment that we need.” — Congressman Vela (D-Brownsville).

Cindy Ramos-Davidson, the chief executive of the El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said Congress “gets so wrapped up in the process of people moving that they forget about the actual element of how that affects people. They throw all this money at drones and helicopters and such when they could instead spend it on legally moving people back and forth across the border.”

Border communities are not too fond of the idea of having their homes further militarized. So much so, that the Border Network for Human Rights and other organizations across the U.S. and Mexico held a national day of action against border militarization.

Hundreds gathered this summer to protest additional border security measures compromised by Democrats and Republicans in S. 744, the bipartisan immigration reform bill passed in the Senate earlier this year. People in border communities believe these additional new measures will only further militarize their communities.

The measures will cost the country an initial price tag of $47 billion. More horrifying yet, these same security measures are what is causing the deaths of thousands of migrant crossers — men, women, and children — when attempting to cross the border.

“In the past decade almost 6,000 people have died trying to cross our Southwestern border. Approximately 2,500 have died just along the 350 miles of border I represent. Our uncontrolled border spending has done nothing to address the reasons people come to this country – it has just pushed migrants into remote areas where they die more frequently.

There is a humanitarian crisis happening on our soil, and further militarization is not the answer. We need to understand that true border security means humanitarian support, preventing deaths, targeting human trafficking, and keeping border towns the safe places to live that they are today. It also means oversight of law enforcement practices to prevent further human right abuses. Fiscally responsible investments in border security will protect our nation from real harm and help us refocus on our border as an asset rather than a source of conflict.” — Congressman Grijalva (D-Tucson).

In Del Rio, Val Verde County Judge Laura Allen, a Republican, says there is no need for more fencing or border agents. If Congress wants to send more people, she hopes the Border Patrol might expand their town's local training facility.

A “waste of money” is what people in the border think of fences, which are commonly added two or three one right after another.

When visiting the Rio Grande Valley in 2007, Mikhail Gorbachev, the former Soviet president (yes, you read that correctly), had this to say about our border fence:

“Well, I am not going to repeat what President Reagan once said, but I think … the Great Wall of China or the Berlin Wall … have not been very effective, not particularly efficient.”

Gorbachev also said that even a country as great as the United States doesn't have all the money in the world, so “why spend money on this kind of thing?”

Thousands of deaths, a bunch of useless fences, and a lack of economic growth. That's all Congress has to show for immigration these last couple of years.  


About Author

Omar Araiza

Staff writer Omar Araiza covers immigration, Latino voters, the U.S.-Mexico border, and LGBT issues. He is a proud South Texas native, born and raised in the lower Rio Grande Valley. Omar tweets from @AraizaTX.

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