El Paso Times
February 20, 2013
by Diana Washington Valdez
El Paso community leaders on Wednesday announced a united campaign to lobby
U.S. lawmakers for immigration reform that is not conditioned on further
increases in border security.
"This year will be the year for immigration reform, some thing we have worked
on for the past 15 years," said Fernando Garcia, executive director of the
Border Network for Human Rights. "Something is going to happen, but we don't
know what details will be in the reform legislation. It will bring immigrants --
we call them 'undocumented Americans' -- out of the shadows.
"The idea that more enforcement is needed before immigration reform can take
place is of great concern to us," Garcia said. "Enough has been done already. El
Paso, a border city, is the safest city in the United States. We have 650 miles of border fencing,
22,000 Border Patrol agents, and we spent $18 billion on enforcement last year
alone. What is not being enforced are the civil and human rights of immigrants.
They helped to build this nation and deserve better than this."
Besides Garcia, other leaders who spoke about immigration reform at a news
conference Wednesday at the Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce included U.S.
Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-El Paso, city Rep. Susie Byrd, County Judge Veronica
Escobar, Chamber of Commerce Chairwoman Kathleen Walker and the Rev. Arturo
O'Rourke said that El Paso has been at the end of bad public policy in the
past, and that it's time for the El Paso border community to make its voice heard in Washington.
"No one has yet defined what 'border security' is," O'Rourke said. "Immigrant
communities create the conditions for thriving economies. My job in Congress
will be to tell my colleagues in other states that immigration reform is going
to be a boon for their communities. I am encouraged by the bipartisan group in
the Senate that is working on immigration legislation, but making security a
condition is a nonstarter."
O'Rourke said he would like to see more resources used to improve the flow of trade at border
ports of entry, which also helps to improve commerce.
The political rhetoric continues to heat up as the White House and Congress
throw out different proposals for immigration reform that will affect millions
of undocumented immigrants in the United States. Creating legislation that
includes a path to citizenship has been one of the major points that legislators
can't seem to agree on.
According to the Center for Migrant Studies in New York, the United States
has 11.7 million undocumented immigrants. A quick calculation shows that this is
about 3.7 percent of the entire U.S. population of 312.8 million.
The center, which uses the term "unauthorized immigrants," estimates that
Texas has 1.6 million undocumented immigrants. That means that undocumented
immigrants make up around 6.1 percent of the Lone Star State's entire population
of 26 million.
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a ranking member on the Senate's Subcommittee
On Immigration, Refugees and Border Security, has come out in favor of
immigration reform and greater border security.
"Our nation's immigration and border security system is badly broken. It
leaves our borders unprotected, threatens our national security and makes a
mockery of the rule of law," Cornyn states on his website. "The system has
suffered from years of neglect, and in a post-9/11 world, we cannot tolerate
this situation any longer. National security demands a comprehensive solution to our immigration system --
and that means both stronger enforcement and reasonable reform of our
immigration laws. We must solve this problem -- and solve it now."
Escobar said a delegation of elected officials and advocates plan to travel
to Washington, D.C., on Feb. 27, to hold a news conference and speak to
She said it's important for El Paso to take a lead role in the debate on
"We are not calling for open borders," Escobar said. "We are calling for
rational measures for these reforms."
Escobar invited the public to follow the delegation's efforts as it works to
push for comprehensive immigration legislation over the next few months.
Walker, who is also a lawyer specializing in immigration law, said that when
it comes to enforcement, "Business understands that we need to protect civil and
human rights, and praised the contributions of immigrant entrepreneurs and
"We have met the benchmarks for border security É but unless you define what
border security is, we can't get there," she said.
The Border Network for Human Rights said research shows that apprehension
rates at the U.S.-Mexico border are at 40-year lows and that net migration from
Mexico is zero.
Banuelas, a Catholic clergyman and human rights advocate, said: "We will keep
fighting for the most vulnerable people of our society. We need to tell the
truth about immigrants, about their contributions, and not let fear of others
give way to some form of backdoor racism.
"We should not continue to criminalize immigrants who come here to work to
feed their families," Banuelas said.
Banuelas also said the U.S. should re-examine its trade policies that create
massive displacements in other countries and force migrants to leave their
native countries in search of employment.
El Paso's city and county governments have adopted resolutions in support of
comprehensive immigration reform.
Copyright 2012 El Paso Times. All rights