By Miguel De La Torre
I oppose Senate Bill 744, legislation passed 68-22 on Thursday to significantly overhaul the nation’s immigration laws.
I have worked, written and lectured on immigration reform throughout the country for the past several years, but I can no longer, in good conscience, support this bill. The Senate bill is so deeply flawed that its passage will do more harm and bring more death to the undocumented.
My initial excitement of a bill dealing with the human-rights violations occurring on our nation’s southern border turned to disappointment and despair as the legislative process evolved.
We can expect that adverse consequences of this bill will only worsen when the House takes up the measure. House leadership has already said they plan to focus on a much narrower legislation that does not include a path toward citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants presently in the United States.
My friends at No More Deaths also oppose S 744. No More Deaths is an organization that takes the words of Jesus literally and walks the trails migrants take to provide food to the hungry, water to the thirsty, clothes to the naked and comfort to the stranger among us.
They see firsthand the consequences of our policies on the border and serve as the nation’s conscience in their proclamation that we as a people are violating the will of God to be the Good Samaritan to those whose bodies litter the migrant trails.
No More Deaths recently listed the reasons why they stand against the Senate bill, reasons which resonate with my own opposition.
First, the bill’s “pathway to citizenship” is troublesome. The obstacles the undocumented must navigate — expanded criminal grounds for removal and requirements that immigrants earn at least 125 percent of the federal poverty level, not be unemployed for two consecutive months, provide proof of payment on all back taxes, pay exorbitant fees and learn English — means that more than half of the 11 million undocumented immigrants will never qualify.
Second, the last-minute inclusion of the “border surge” to the bill means more deaths. Since 1994, when Operation Gatekeeper went into effect, more than 6,000 individuals made in the image of God died attempting to migrate to the U.S.
Considering the bill excludes the almost 2 million individuals deported during the Obama administration — many with homes, families and lives lived in the U.S. — we can expect many will attempt another crossing to reclaim lost lives regardless of the consequences. The “border surge” provision will guarantee that those crossing in the future will face extreme hardship, leading to thousands more unnecessary deaths.
Third, the border-enforcement provisions are an unnecessary waste of taxpayers’ funds. The Senate bill nearly doubles the size of the U.S. Border Patrol to 38,000 agents at a cost of $30 billion — not including the $18 billion already spent on border and immigration enforcement annually. Even former Border Patrol officials and current union representatives argue that these provisions are unnecessary and potentially harmful.
Fourth, the bill undermines the civil liberties of Americans. The militarization of the border and over 100 interior Border Patrol checkpoints 25 to 75 miles away from the international border creates a consistent need for Americans to prove their citizenship when many go to work, shop or school.
The bill provides $3.6 billion to expand the use of unarmed Predator B drones, high-resolution camera towers (which have yet to work due to high winds) and other surveillance technologies targeting American communities and eroding everyone’s civil liberties.
Finally, the Senate bill will continue to devastate the fragile ecology. The increase of Border Patrol personnel alone will negatively impact our Southwest desert.
I stand with No More Deaths and other religious organizations that do human rights advocacy on the desert in their opposition to the Senate bill.
We desperately need a national conversation and legislation designed to safeguard human life and deal with the greatest human-rights violation occurring within our borders during this moment in time.
This bill has been so watered down that it will have the opposite effect. Let us all say, “No More Deaths!”