Stop scare tactics in immigration debate

 

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, recently sent out a tweet claiming that a friend’s property was being overrun with illegal border crossers — 300 each night. Sen. Cornyn has yet to identify the friend or substantiate the numbers, which would add up to 110,000 undocumented immigrants each year in this single soft spot, wherever it is.

Texas border sheriffs and the Border Patrol found the claim implausible. In fact, the Border Patrol estimates that 51,517 illegal immigrants eluded capture along the Texas-Mexico border in 2011, according to the Dallas Morning News. For the tweet to be true, more than twice as many immigrants must be entering at this one spot than can be accounted for along the entire border.

The immigrant invasion tweet is similar to other tall tales we’ve recently heard about the U.S. border: Phoenix is the second kidnapping capital of the world; drug cartel violence is “spilling over” into American streets; Mexico is a gateway for Islamic terrorism.

The idea, of course, is to paint a menacing picture of an out-of-control border, bolstering the false premise that border control must be firmly established before Congress can turn its attention to meaningful immigration reform. And, as these border myths continually show, the government will never reach a level of security that’s good enough for those opposed to immigration reform. The stories never end, just like the installments on a payday loan.

Reform opponents have been playing this game for quite a while. In 2007, Republican lawmakers demanded that President George W. Bush deploy four drones to scan the border, build 105 radar and camera towers, raise the number of Border Patrol agents to 20,000, and erect 670 miles of fencing. After that’s accomplished, they said, we can take up reform.

Today, according to Businessweek magazine, the U.S. has 10 border drones, 300 towers, and 21,394 agents — 18,500 of them stationed along the U.S.-Mexico border. Fencing now covers 651 miles of the border, twice the length in 2009, and immigration agents have deported 1.5 million undocumented workers in the past four years, the most since Dwight Eisenhower was president.

Because of those numerous efforts and other factors, including the U.S. recession, Border Patrol apprehensions of all unauthorized immigrants are at the lowest level since 1971, according to a study by the Pew Research Hispanic Center.

But still for some, this is not enough. They say the border remains out of control; immigrants are illegally crossing all around us — in one spot 300 every night! — therefore we cannot yet take up immigration reform.

It is tragic for our nation that such attitudes persist, particularly at a time when comprehensive immigration reform appears to be within our grasp. There has been a renewed push, among both Democrats and Republicans in Washington, to reform our broken immigration system. The American people want action — 62 percent of us support reform, according to a recent poll by the Associated Press.

We certainly believe that public safety and American sovereignty are vitally important, but immigration reform is not about border security. To the extent that we must be smarter and more focused in that effort, by all means, let’s do so. But let us not hold the fate of millions hostage to anecdotes on Twitter and unsubstantiated terrorism claims at this critical juncture.

Immigration reform is the right thing to do, the fiscally responsible thing to do, and the humanitarian thing to do. Based on the role that immigrants have played in the history of our country, it is also the American thing to do.

Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, is chairman of the Texas Senate Hispanic Caucus; and Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso, is vice-chairman of the Texas Senate Democratic Caucus. Together, they represent approximately two-thirds (820 miles) of the Texas-Mexico border.

© 2013, McClatchy-Tribune

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