Without question, America is in need of comprehensive immigration reform; a program that is both comprehensive and compassionate, practical and politically doable. There are, of course, innumerable obstacles on the pathway to success -- like a sizeable number of conservative Tea Party Republicans who refuse to vote for any measure which includes a "path to citizenship." To their way of thinking, any such path would be rewarding men, women and children for breaking the law -- for being here illegally. Additionally, many have said they would never vote for any measure which did not first secure America's southern border and guard against a future wave of illegal immigrants..
Enter Senators Bob Corker (R-TN) and John Hoeven (R-ND). In order to get the Upper Chamber to pass an immigration reform measure, these two added a provision which helped bring on board more than a dozen Republicans. Their amendment calls for adding roughly $30 billion to border enforcement measures, including nearly doubling the number of Border Patrol agents from 21,000 to 40,000, and completing 700 miles of fencing. Specifically it requires a $3.2 billion high-tech border surveillance plan - including drones and long-range thermal imaging cameras - as well as an electronic employment verification system and a visa entry/exit system at all air and sea ports. To sweeten the deal, the Corker/Hoeven Amendment requires that all these security measures must be in place before a single immigrant can become a legal permanent resident and receive a green card. (Think of the fence as a kind of Berlin Wall in reverse; the Soviets built their wall in order to keep Germans in; the Southern Border fence is for the purpose of keeping Mexicans out.)
The Corker/Hoeven strategy worked: the Senate wound up passing a comprehensive immigration bill by a final vote of 67-27. Now it's on to the House, where its chances of passage are somewhere between none and less than that. Already, Speaker Boehner has proclaimed the Senate bill "a non-starter" and invoked the so-called "Hastert Rule," a philosophy/strategy that requires the “majority of the majority” to bring up a bill for a vote in the House . (Please note that it is also a misnomer given that Republican speakers' practice of requiring the support of the majority of their members to put up bills for a vote is not an official rule and was actually started by Newt Gingrich, not Dennis Hastert.) According to Speaker Boehner, "For any legislation, including a conference report, to pass the House, it's going to have to be a bill that has the support of a majority of our members." What he proposes instead, is that the House write its own legislation, covering various aspects of immigration reform in piecemeal fashion.
In all the punditry and reportage surrounding passage of the Senate bill, little ink and even less verbiage has been devoted to a glaring, 100-megawatt inconsistency: that at a time of sequestration and the further cutting of funds for everything from the FDA, SEC and National Parks to Medicaid, Food Stamps and Meals on Wheels, the Senate voted overwhelmingly to authorize and appropriate an additional $30 billion in order to militarize America's southern border. To me, this $30 billion is little more than political ransom; the price these guys are willing to pay in order to cover their collective political tuchuses.
Believe it or not, net migration from Mexico has fallen to zero -- and perhaps even less -- over the past several years. Moreover, deportations have increased exponentially since the beginning of the Obama administration. Not surprisingly, conservative Republicans and their mouthpieces refuse to accept this fact. Speaking on the Senate floor at the beginning of the most recent immigration debate, Alabama Republican Jeff Sessions told his colleagues, "The federal government has reached a point now where virtually no one is being deported, except those convicted of serious crimes." Oh really? According to U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement, during its first four years in office the Obama administration has deported, on average, 32,886 people a month (that's a total of 1.6 million) as opposed to a monthly average of 20,964 for George W. Bush and 9,059 for Bill Clinton.
In other words, the Senate has just agreed to spend $30 billion for something which in reality, is not all that critical. What truly galls me is that in order to get Republicans to vote for the measure -- which in the main is a pretty good bill -- Senators Corker and Hoeven proposed adding more than 20,000 workers to the federal workforce, as well as providing billions of dollars to companies that manufacture drones and electronic fences -- all of which goes against their supposed fiscal hawkery. If this bill ever passes the House, the U.S. Border Patrol will actually be larger than the FBI -- 40,000 agents. In doing the math, 40,000 agents for 700 miles of border fence works out to one agent every 250 feet. Talk about overkill! This is not the kind of jobs bill we were looking for . . .
Our most pressing need is not to be protected from a diminishing number of illegal Mexican immigrants who are willing to work at menial tasks no other American wants. Our most pressing need is to be protected from malnutrition, hunger and homelessness, from collapsing bridges, overcrowded classroom and minimum-wage jobs . . . indeed, from political opportunists who find no inconsistency is calling for drastic spending cuts and deficit reduction while blithely adding $30 billion in needless debt.
To a great extent, we the great unwashed public are as much to blame as the people we have elected . . . and reelected. For we have failed to make our voices heard above the ringing of lobbyist's cash registers. Gun manufacturers, distillers, hedge-fund managers, big pharma and bigger farms -- all have well-heeled, nicely-manicured lobbyists who make sure Congress knows and understands their needs and wishes. But what about the malnourished, impoverished senior whose "Meals on Wheels" delivery has been cut from 5 days to 4; who lobbies on her behalf? (Fact: Due to the Sequester, Meals on Wheels has lost $51 million in funding. They have had to cut back on their staff, which means that they have had to cut back on those they can feed. That $51 million represents an infinitesimal .0017% of the money being proposed for beefing up border security.) What of the sick, homeless veteran who instead of receiving medication and a bed, is put on a waiting list; whose voice is raised for him? What about the millions who, through no fault of their own rely on food stamps, AFDC or other forms of public assistance? Who speaks for them?
While the well-fed in Washington are gung-ho about protecting us from illegal immigrants, who is going to protect meals on wheels from the well-heeled? It is we, the American public. We are the ones who must light a fire on behalf of the the hungry, the homeless, the voiceless. Don't just complain and groan . . . make your voice heard. If we can spend $30 billion against an enemy that is more phantasmal than real, we can certainly match dollar-for-dollar for those who are truly in need.
©2013Kurt F. Stone