Senate Plan to Militarize Border Draws Backlash

Republican Senators have been boasting about spending $46 billion to enhance border security, but as the bill moves to the House, the excess is beginning to look like a liability

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Samantha Sais / REUTERS

The Arizona-Mexico border fence near Naco, Ariz., March 29, 2013

Just two weeks ago, Republican Senators were boasting about big plans to spend $46 billion over the next 10 years to enhance security on the southern border. “Almost overkill,” Tennessee Republican Bob Corker said of the plan. “Well oversufficient,” added Arizona Republican John McCain. “We’ll be the most militarized border since the fall of the Berlin Wall.” The Senators meant this as a good thing.

But as the bill moves to the House, the excess is beginning to look like a liability. The deal, which helped pass the Senate rewrite of U.S. immigration laws, is unlikely to sway House Republicans who insist on securing the border before some 11 million undocumented immigrants can begin the naturalization process. And it is alienating allies who are vital to immigration reform’s chances in the House, including a prominent Latino advocacy group and at least one Democratic Representative.

In an unexpected wrinkle, even authorities on the border are balking, saying the influx of agents could create more problems than it would solve. “The majority of the sheriffs I’ve talked to are not in favor of an additional 19,000 border-patrol agents,” says Donald Reay, executive director of the Texas Border Sheriff’s Coalition, whose members are still weighing the Senate bill. Reay has concerns about where the agents would be stationed and the time it could take to perform background checks on so many new hires.

(MORE: In Historic Vote, Senate Passes Bipartisan Immigration Bill)

Shawn Moran, vice president of the National Border Patrol Council, says the union doesn’t support the spike in guards. “There’s nowhere to put them,” Moran says. “We’re just starting to get a handle on the 21,000 agents we have.” Noting the struggle to pay for salaries, guns, gas and office space for its existing members, Moran worries the sprint to recruit, hire and train new agents would result in a lower-quality force. “What we fear is that the agency would cut corners again in terms of the hiring and training. That would be a nonstarter for us.”

To win over a mere handful of Republicans, the Senate forked over $38 billion on top of its existing proposal to beef up the border. The plan, crafted by Corker and North Dakota Republican John Hoeven, would add about 20,000 agents and erect 700 miles of fencing along the 1,900-mile line between the U.S. and Mexico. “This was not done for policy reasons,” says Doris Meissner, director of U.S. immigration policy at the Migration Policy Institute and a former Immigration and Naturalization Service commissioner under President Clinton. “It was dictated by politics.”

To rally support for the measure, Hoeven argued that it would satisfy lingering concerns about security and enforcement. “The American people want a comprehensive immigration-reform plan with tough border enforcement,” he explained. “They want to know that 10 years from now, we won’t find ourselves in this same position, having to address the same problem.” But opponents of the surge say the debate in Washington, waged largely in abstractions, has ignored the realities of life on the border.

(MORE: Self-Interest Could Sink Immigration Reform)

The number of agents stationed there has already quintupled over the past two decades, while spending on enforcement is 15 times higher than in 1986, the last time Congress overhauled U.S. immigration policy. Border cities are among the safest in the U.S. Illegal crossings have dipped in many notorious trouble spots. “It’s overkill,” says Tony Estrada, the sheriff of Santa Cruz County, nestled against the Arizona border south of Tucson. “Additional personnel is not going to solve the problem. Maybe it will diminish it, but illegal immigration and drugs are going to continue.”

The original Senate bill, which allotted $8 billion for security measures, was expected to curb illegal immigration about 25%, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. The CBO predicts the Corker-Hoeven amendment to further limit illegal crossings, potentially halving the flow of undocumented immigrants. Whether these reductions are worth the amendment’s $38 billion tab is another question — and one supporters were able to duck. The cost will be covered, they argue, by the $135 billion the CBO projects the bill to save by 2023 through greater revenues produced by a larger legal labor force, including more-skilled immigrants earning higher wages.

While the push to double the number of border agents has done little to neutralize House Republicans’ objections, it has incensed some of the bill’s supporters on the left. Filemon Vela, a House Democrat from Texas, quit the Congressional Hispanic Caucus last week over the group’s implied support of the Senate bill. Vela did not respond to interview requests from TIME, but said in a floor speech that the beefed-up border presence would hamper the local economy and damage border communities.

(MORE: Immigration Bill Faces Tough Odds in the House)

The surge also prompted Presente.org, a Latino advocacy group that counts some 300,000 members, to withdraw its support for the Senate bill. “The bill has crossed the line,” Arturo Carmona, the group’s executive director, tells TIME. “We were willing to compromise on a right-of-center bill. At this point, it’s gone.”

“There’s no reform in this reform. We’re expected to just shut up and vote for it,” says one official with a liberal immigration-reform advocacy group. “Democrats think that if [immigration reform] passes, they win. And if it loses, they win, because they get to slam Republicans.” Barack Obama has presided over a higher rate of deportations than any President in history, the official notes, arguing that the bill’s lurch to the right jeopardizes Democrats’ support among a Latino community that is tired of being taken for granted.

“The whole deal is crafted on their backs,” says Adam Isacson, an expert at the Washington Office on Latin America, a policy group that studies human rights, social justice and security issues. Isacson argues that a beefed-up border-patrol presence could increase migrant deaths and abuse without stanching the flow of drugs or illegal immigrants into the U.S. “This has very little to do with what was good migration or border policy,” he says. “It was what could buy off the Republicans. This, it turns out, was the price.”

The tab could grow even steeper as the debate shifts to the House, where Republicans want even stronger border-security triggers. “They put the legalization of 11 million people ahead of security. The legalization happens first, and then the security happens second,” Idaho Republican Raúl Labrador said on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday. “I think the American people are not going to stand for that.”

PHOTOS: Fatal Frontier: The Perils of Crossing the Rio Grande

68 comments
ShefaliO'Hara
ShefaliO'Hara

Continued:

We should be pro-immigration and non-racist. That means we shouldn't profile people who speak with a Mexican accent. Whatever laws we pass should be regardless of skin color, because we do have illegals coming from countries besides Mexico, and people who overstay Visas from all over the world. We can be non-racist while still securing our Southern border. There are places where a fence is appropriate. There are other places where more agents, or unmanned drones might be better.

Once we secure the border, then I think most Americans will be cool with giving the illegals already here some sort of legal status. I'm thinking - why not give them Green cards? That way they can live here legally and work here. If they want citizenship, they should go back to their country of origin and apply for residence in the US. That way they are in the back of the line for citizenship but they don't have to leave the US in order to work, etc. Also, having them pay fines is not the best idea, IMHO, because many of them are very poor.

ShefaliO'Hara
ShefaliO'Hara

Continued:

6) Terrorism: We don't know if terrorist organizations are using our porous borders to sneak into our country. By the time we find out - it could be too late.
7) Gangs, drugs, criminals: Along the Southern border, apparently Border Patrol regularly finds "rape trees" - trees near which are discarded panties, etc. Coyotes bringing illegals across the border take advantage of the women. There is also smuggling of sex slaves, drugs, etc. Criminals can cross.
8) Property violations: Many ranchers, farmers, etc., on the Southern border report people crossing through their property. This makes them feel unsafe, causes damage to their property, etc.
9) Inhumane to the illegals: They often cross in dangerous conditions, risking death. When they do get over here, they can be easily exploited and live in fear of being reported.

ShefaliO'Hara
ShefaliO'Hara

We could pay Mexico to keep people out of our country. In fact, someone suggested that. Mexico does a great job keeping Central Americans out of Mexico, much better than we do keeping immigrants of all varieties out.

Why do we need to secure the border, anyway? Here are some reasons:

1) Environmental: Anyone who has been on the border can tell you - the illegals who cross there are destructive to a fragile ecosystem. We need a system that allows for orderly passage in locations that are not designated wildlife areas.
2) Unemployment: Right now there are plenty of citizens and legal residents who can't find jobs. The thing is, if an employer hires illegals - it's less expensive than hiring an American or legal immigrant. They can violate OSHA, they don't have to provide health insurance, etc. There have been exposes of the inhumane conditions that illegals are willing to tolerate. It's cheaper for employers, but it's not humane.
3) Downward pressure on wages: See above. Also, basic economics. Supply and demand. When there is an oversupply of labor, employers pay less.
4) By providing a pressure valve, we help the authorities in Mexico NOT have to change. They get to continue doing things that oppress their people, knowing the disgruntled just come to the US.
5) Costs to stressed municipalities: Many cities are facing deficits, and illegals are a net cost to the system.

jadefa
jadefa

Why do democrats and the Obamedia insist on using the completely false 11 million illegal aliens number as a way to diminish the need for greater border security? It's 50 million...this foreign insurgency of both people and culture, welcomed by democrats as part of their voter registration drive to build a permanent super majority and part of their master plan to sabotage the United States is the greatest act of treason and largest assault on the United States and American Culture in it's history...before all you hispanic supremacists and self hating white racists start in with all your xenophobe babble, remind yourselves of our Motto....E Pluribus Unum which means out of many races ONE PEOPLE...ONE CULTURE! Multiculturalism will destroy America, so all you saboteurs don't worry, be happy and then eat each other when this vessel for Freedom and Liberty has finally sunk from all the holes you punched into it.

WalterCunningham
WalterCunningham

We can't trust our president with immigration reform and secure the border

kill the bill

small_axe
small_axe

Typical right wing bile. They have the rich standing on their throat, so of course, they direct their anger downward towards those suffering more than themselves. 

We need to bring the FULL force and weight of justice down on the heads of the wealthy who are using these poor saps as modern day indentured servants.

Only when this country wakes up and applies the rod to the now completely our of control wealthy class will we begin to right the ship.

Or how about raising the minimum wage and making it punishable by death to pay ANYONE less? That will end illegal immigration in a hurry.

But it doesn't scratch the itch these people have for punitive measures against the weak. It makes them feel strong.

You're a bunch of sissy cowards. Grow a pair and stand up to the rich. That rough violation you're feeling at your backside isn't an illegal immigrant, it is the cynical rich piece of sh*t who wants to break the middle class by making us compete against half rate immigrant labor.

What do you think Ayn Rand is all about? You tea party types are hailing and defending the very people who are screwing you and your family. Wake the F up.

RickHunter
RickHunter

Here's an idea... lets take one or two of the BRIGADES that we have stationed in Germany and plant them right on the bloody border with full authority to make arrests, etc. as necessary for ANYONE of ANY COLOR, RACE, CREED, ETC who tries to enter the country illegally.

BorisIII
BorisIII

I'm guessing the fence that is already up doesn't work.  Because it would be a lot cheaper than hiring and equipping 20,000 new border officers.

swagger
swagger

so we will be quitting more spending, more low skill and higher skilled immigrants?  will employers still be able to hire illegals with impunity?  the whole plan sounds like a cynical swindle.

CharlesEdwardBrown
CharlesEdwardBrown

Its time to deport all the illegal immigrants who are living in the United States. We should spend the money to get rid of the illegal aliens already here and send a clear message to anyone who want to come into our country illegally that they will be sent home. NO AMNESTY, no pathway to US Citizenship, just a bus ride back to their home country and a warning. We should also go after the employers of illegal aliens and make them pay large fines and make it impossible for an illegal alien to get a job or keep a job.

Lawgiver0
Lawgiver0

I just want to help people back home migrate to this country illegally and we must do it before the so called Surge.

whidbeydanielg
whidbeydanielg

We have spent time camping and hiking along the southern Arizona border.  It is NOT secure.  We have seen many illegal immigrants--one simply sleeping on one of the picnic tables at a National Monument right next to where we were camping.  There are mounds of trash all over the areas from illegal immigrants just dumping their stuff as they travel.  


It does not feel safe.  I would not take my children or grandchildren to those areas.

Enhanced border control might not be the answer, but I have seen no other ideas that don't fall apart upon close examination.  

(and I am in favor of a method of granting citizenship to those who are here, so I'm not anti-immigration)

Channah
Channah

Anything that will mess the GOP up--------I am for.

PaulDirks
PaulDirks

This is exactly the same stupidity that results in our outspending the rest of the planet by a factor of 10 for defense. No one cares how the money is actually spent or how much security it actually affords; they just know that they can't be portrayed as against more money. 

We've managed to institutionalize our worst impulses.

coolbeatie
coolbeatie

Hey, they forgot to address the Canadian Border....incompetence once again

retiredvet
retiredvet

How about we just pay them to stay out?

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

Two wars are ending which means the defense contractors that donate heavily to the GOP need a new pay day.

tommyudo
tommyudo

@small_axe 


That was one righteous rant brother. It's part of the authoritarian personality to always  go after and scapegoat those without power, all the while currying favor with the powerful. The Right Wing in this country have always suffered from false consciousness.


tommyudo
tommyudo

@RickHunter 


Hey Einstein, shall we have the US Navy and the nuclear submarine fleet also patrol the California and the entire Gulf Coast for all those tiny inlets where people from other countries could easily land, instead of contending with a desert border fence?

NP042
NP042

@CharlesEdwardBrown Rhetorical question, Chuck.


Let's say somehow we magically pass a bill to deport people, on top of the record number we are already deporting, to their "home country."  What about the people for whom the US is their home country?  The children, teenagers, and young adults (or even older) who were brought here by their parents when they were younger and who grew up in the US?  Who for all intents and purposes are as "American" as you and I?  



jason024
jason024

@CharlesEdwardBrown 

 We should do more of the latter (punishing employers) than the former (magically deporting everyone). The latter will force many back home. Contrary to your rants we will not go door to door demanding papers since that is the ONLY way you can "send them home."

BTW: Militarizing the border is a joke. East Germany had one of the most militarized borders in human history yet people STILL crossed back and forth.

TyPollard
TyPollard

@whidbeydanielg 

Do the "illegal" immigrants wear tee-shirts with "I'm an Illegal" on it? 

I can never tell just by looking at them.

ThirteenthLetter
ThirteenthLetter

@Channah You're fine with tearing the country to bits, as long as your ideological opponents suffer first, eh? Ladies and gentlemen, the left.

formerlyjames
formerlyjames

@coolbeatie 

The only terrorist activity on the border I have seen was Canada, not Mexico.  But Canada lacks the racial element which motivates the right wing bigots.

small_axe
small_axe

So if you are the big tree 
We are the small axe 
Ready to cut you down 
To cut you down

--Bob Marley

AMPhx38
AMPhx38

@jason024 @CharlesEdwardBrown Um...no.  Speaking as one who was there, people did not cross back and forth, unless you mean they crossed from one communist country to another.  That's what resulted in the eventual fall of communism there.  And what crossings did take place were in specific, authorized locations where papers (oh my) were checked multiple times.

whidbeydanielg
whidbeydanielg

@TyPollard @whidbeydanielg You're right!  How could I have been so racist.  Walking north through the Arizona desert off of all marked trails with no hiking gear or supplies and only black water jugs of the type that are strewn everywhere.  In an area where there are signs everywhere warning you of illegal crossings and illegal drug smuggling.  BOY did I ever jump to a conclusion.  


Go there and see for yourself.  Park your family in a campground near the border, and then drive into town and leave them for awhile.  See how comfortable you feel.

There are places at Organ Pipe National Monument, for example, where there are posts with buttons so illegal immigrants who are in trouble can call Border Security themselves!  What?  And some parts of Organ Pipe are off limits to US citizens because of the large numbers of illegal immigrants.


The problem is real.  Don't try to make it a figment of my imagination.  Go there, spend time there, and see for yourself.

small_axe
small_axe

Well, to be honest mantis, Bob's message was definitely not all about peace love and happiness. That was a great part of his genius, his songs all SOUNDED like they were, but in reality he was sharing some hard truths.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@small_axe That Socialist Hippy? The GOP wants no part of his teachings about love, peace and respect for all.

HazeAndDrizzle
HazeAndDrizzle

@jason024 @TyPollard @tommyudo @RickHunter No,no. Let's ask everyone to "show their papers". Maybe we can get gun licensing and registration this way. Then we can disarm them. After that decide how many to send to the FEMA camps in Idaho. Let's hoist the Righties on their own petard. 

tommyudo
tommyudo

@CharlesEdwardBrown @TyPollard @whidbeydanielg


You're the idiot Charlie, and I'm being kind. How about you and all your Tea Party brethren get you tri cornered hats and your muskets and forcibly expel over 11 million people, all the while tearing families in two.  It can't and won't be done, so either you are as dumb as a bag of hammers, or you are just cynically throwing out Reich Wing cliches. Most likely it's a combo of both. As for your notion of having employers paying big fines for hiring undocumented workers, that isn't going to happen since many of these companies are big GOP donors.

TyPollard
TyPollard

@CharlesEdwardBrown @TyPollard @whidbeydanielg 

I may be an idiot but I try not to have compassion people in those dire situations. Our immigration system is broken but amping up security until we are as militarized as the old Berlin Wall is built on fear of "others" and not sound policy.

ThirteenthLetter
ThirteenthLetter

@TyPollard @whidbeydanielg It sounds like you don't actually have a response to Daniel; you are just emotionally convinced that somehow he must be wrong. Why else would you spend your time harping on the absurd detail of which terminology for illegal immigrants is politically correct, instead of the very real and important issue of border territory that is unsafe for US citizens -- of any color -- to be in?

TyPollard
TyPollard

@whidbeydanielg @TyPollard 

My original comment was meant to stand up for the Americans with brown skin and South and Central American immigrants with legal status that are assumed to be here illegally. Happens every day. 

I apologize, as your assumption was at least based on circumstantial evidence but my point remains. 

As for a less dehumanizing term for these people I believe undocumented immigrants is a better choice.

whidbeydanielg
whidbeydanielg

@TyPollard @whidbeydanielg Are you reading or just reacting?  I said I am not anti-immigration.  You may find "illegal immigrant" to be dehumanizing, but you offer no other, less dehumanizing, term.  I find it to be a neutral term, or I would not have used it.  And you offer no other solutions, and did not address the other part of my comment that other so-called solutions have huge problems of their own.  


So go ahead and feel self-righteous that you are a compassionate person and those who favor border security are not. But it doesn't fly with me.

We could just drop the whole thing and open the borders.  Is that what you want?  Do you want a half-hearted solution like our current border security is now?  Well, Mr. illegal-immigrant-to-be-dehumanizng, this current approach is resulting the deaths of many who try.  A totally secure border would likely eliminate those deaths because people would know their attempts would be unsuccessful, and then could apply for legal immigration.  I find those deaths to be what is dehumanizing, not my term. 

 Take your kids there, let them run around in the desert and play.  Teach them to read the warning signs about drug smugglers.  Most people who try to reach our country are good people, but many are desperate.  And desperate people can be among the most dangerous.  After you do this, come back and tell me about your terrific vacation.


So, put up or shut up.  What are you suggesting and how would you solve the problems that other ideas (of which there are very few, actually) create?

TyPollard
TyPollard

@whidbeydanielg @TyPollard

Poverty and desperation aren't pretty but these people are struggling for a better life and risking their lives to make that happen. No doubt there is a real problem but I just find the term "illegal immigrant" to be dehumanizing.