Keep families together and treat immigrants humanely

Photo by Rudy Gutierrez for The Texas Tribune

On Tuesday, unexpectedly, the Texas Senate brought forth a substantive resolution about border enforcement and immigration.

Although four of the five Senators whose districts are on the border are Democrats, none of them were consulted. The resolution did not go through a typical committee process of review before appearing on our desks — moments before it was brought up. Yet while its movement was outside the norms of Senate procedure, and it unfortunately conflated "border security" with immigration, it showed that there is one area of agreement upon which the country should move forward. 

I offered an amendment to the resolution that stated the Texas Senate's support for immigrant families by demanding that the federal government cease separating families at the border as a means of deterring refugees, and that it humanely process refugee and asylum seekers. 

This amendment is the only true expression of the Texas Senate, as it passed unanimously, showing bipartisan support for: (1) not separating families as a means of deterrence; and (2) treating immigrants humanely. The rest of the resolution, which passed 19-12 along party lines, does not reflect the full will of the Texas Senate, which traditionally prides itself on a deliberative process that is focused on issues, not politics.

The vast majority of the resolution uses rhetoric like that employed by the president to paint an inaccurate picture of the border, immigrants and the true crisis that the federal government has created in communities like mine in El Paso. 

That crisis is one that is being met by faith, perseverance and love from El Pasoans who have cooked meals, given rides and provided essentials such as toiletries to people who are seeking freedom in America. Asylum seekers are lawfully requesting entry into the country. Federal agencies, which for years have been oriented to a quasi-military posture toward border enforcement, based more on fear and political posturing than reality, are simply not equipped to handle the true needs. Thus, our community has stepped up to fill the role the federal agencies should be filling. 

The federal government has poured unprecedented resources into staffing and equipment at the southern border. In 1992, the Border Patrol had 3,500 agents on the southern border. In 2000, that number more than doubled to 8,500. Now, there are about 20,000 agents. The budget for border and immigration enforcement is more than $20 billion. 

This resolution won't help reduce the "push" factors leading migrants from the Northern Triangle of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, where global warming is wreaking havoc on rural residents, and the civic structures of the countries are stressed by crime and corruption. Yet the administration cuts off aid, limiting our ability to help people who want to stay in their home countries.

The hysteria about "border security," which has led to militarization of the border and criminalization of unauthorized migrants, is unwarranted by the facts. Yet, according to a spring 2018 White House fact sheet, ICE was budgeted for $7.6 billion and CBP for $13.9 billion, while the Executive Office for Immigration Review was budgeted at only $500 million.

This hysteria has skewed our national priorities for far too long, predating even this administration that has raised it to new levels. It's long past time for a sober look at the topic of "border security,” and for comprehensive immigration reform that rebalances our approach to conform with reality. Instead, we get threats to close the border — something that we all know will hurt trade and hurt people.

The Texas Senate's poorly planned action is illuminating. At first glance, it appears to be a thinly veiled political talking point aimed at smearing the border and immigrants, a message in support of the president's re-election campaign theme. But in the end, the only truly bipartisan element of the resolution passed by the Texas Senate addressed the need to treat immigrants with compassion and humanity.

That is a great starting point for all policy discussions about the paired, but distinct, issues of rational border management and immigration reform, and our opportunity to help Central Americans where they are and to maintain our country’s historic identity as a global beacon of hope.

José Rodríguez

State senator, D-El Paso