WASHINGTON – Officials from El Paso,Texas lobbied Wednesday with more than 200 other immigrant rights activists for reform that doesn’t place as much emphasis on border security.
According to proposed immigration reform,undocumented immigrants cannot gain citizenship until the border is secured,which El Paso elected officials believe is already the case.
El Paso county judge Veronica Escobar and El Paso city representative Susie Byrd spent the day meeting with Capitol Hill officials,urging them to pass comprehensive reform that legalizes undocumented immigrants without an increase in border security.
Escobar and Byrd met with staff members of the eight bipartisan senators that introduced a blueprint for reform in January. The group discussed topics such as the definition of a secure border,the possibility of a federal toll at ports of entry and the number of border patrol agents on the ground.
At the meeting,Escobar brought up the issue of accountability for border patrol agents who break laws and even commit murder without consequences. She argued that money should be diverted from detention camps,the border wall and drones rather than create a toll.
“We’ll be following up with the staffers to provide them with more detail,” Escobar said. “The really critical aspect to these meetings is that they see us,they hear from us – our charge is to give a consistent message.”
Staffers said cities like El Paso,San Diego and Yuma,Ariz. have to serve as examples for what a secure border looks like. Other places,such as Tucson,Ariz. and the Rio Grande Valley in Texas do not meet the qualifications to be considered as secure,according to the staffers. Staffers said the proposed reform would not include increasing the number of border patrol agents at these locations.
However,Leon Fresco,staffer for Sen. Charles Schumer,D-N.Y.,said border patrol agents from the U.S.-Canada border would be deployed to the southern border,should reform pass. The relocated agents would aid in the legalization of undocumented immigrants and prevent further illegal immigration from occurring.
More than 200 immigrant rights activists from across the country were lobbying across the Hill at the same time as the El Paso officials. At 12:30,the activists held a press conference in front of the Capitol with Rep. Beto O’Rourke,D-Texas.
O’Rourke said he met with the subcommittee on border and maritime security on Feb. 26 for a hearing to discuss what defines a secure border.
“I think there has been some hesitation by some members to accept that the border is secure,” he said. “But I think that part is coming out of ignorance,or not understanding what it is like to live at the border.”
At the press conference,O’Rourke said a secure border looks like El Paso,San Diego and Honolulu.
“All of these cities are safe,not despite their large immigrant population,but precisely because of their large immigrant population,” O’Rourke said. “That’s part of the powerful story we can tell about immigration and why we need to move forward with comprehensive immigration reform.”
A bill is expected to be introduced to the senate judiciary committee either shortly before or after a two-week recess at the end of March,according to staffers of the eight bipartisan senators. They said they expect a full bill to be on the senate floor by May or June.
Reach reporter Jasmine Aguilera at [email protected] or 202-326-9866. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.