Senators should reconsider immigration reform

— June 18, 2013

One of the best pieces I’ve seen on the impact our nation’s frustrating immigration policy has on families was on MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show” last Wednesday. The host showed a video of a family meeting at the fence that’s been erected between Nogales, Texas, and Nogales, Mexico.

For a 24-year-old woman whose family came to this country when she was a youngster, this was as close as she could get to her mother, who was deported several years ago because she was in the country illegally. They couldn’t hug each other because of the concrete and steel barrier, but they awkwardly touched, talked and cried through the fence. If the daughter crosses the border to see her mother, she risks not being able to come back to the only home she’s ever known.

Kerry Drake

“The human pain caused by separating these mothers and their children has no upside. [It] benefits no one. Nothing good comes from this circumstance, for our country, for Mexico, or anybody else,” Maddow said. “Whether or not you like the policy that causes this result, no one can argue that it has positive value. But it is the end result of the immigration policy we have … This cannot be the thing we are trying to do as a country.”

The image perfectly captured the way our failure to responsibly deal with immigration problems has kept families apart, and the damage it has done.

There were 15 Republican U.S. senators last week who voted to not even bring up for debate a bipartisan measure that would end the needless pain that many separated families must now endure. Unfortunately, Wyoming’s Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso were part of this narrow-minded contingent that continues to place partisan politics above both the will of their constituents and what’s best for our nation.

The Wyoming senators’ “no” votes on cloture find them swimming against the tide of public opinion in the state. A new state Harper Polling survey conducted for the Alliance for Citizenship, Partnership for a New American Economy and Republicans for Immigration Reform found that 71 percent strongly or somewhat support the bipartisan immigration reform legislation being debated in Washington. Even more telling is that 94 percent said it is very or somewhat important that the U.S. fix its immigration system this year.

Throughout the nation, people are telling their elected representatives that they approve of a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. It’s almost as if the truth – that security enforcement of our border with Mexico has increased to its highest level in history under President Barack Obama – has successfully countered GOP scare tactics and outright lies about our supposedly porous security efforts.

Illegal crossings under the Obama administration have decreased and the number of deportations of criminals is at an all-time high. The president said if the bill were passed as written, “it would put in place the toughest border enforcement plan that America has ever seen.”

Yet security is largely the card Wyoming’s senators continued to play as they unsuccessfully sought to keep the immigration bill from being debated. In a press release, Enzi said he strongly opposes amnesty and wants to see more emphasis on E-Verify (for employment checks) and border security. A spokesman for Barrasso said he believes “more has to be done to guarantee stronger border enforcement and effective triggers” before he can support the reform bill backed by fellow GOP Sen. Marco Rubio, one of the party’s likely leading presidential contenders in 2016.

Enzi spokesman Daniel Head said he’s “focused on listening to the concerns of his constituents as this bill has a significant impact on our nation and Wyoming.”

How about listening to the concerns of many of the businesses and industries in the state that depend on laborers from other countries, such as Chris Brown, executive director of the Wyoming Restaurant and Lodging Association? He said, “Our nation’s broken immigration system is long overdue for an overhaul and our hope is that 2013 will be the year that this critical issue is finally addressed.”

It’s no accident, of course, that the 15 votes to block debate on immigration were cast by Republican senators from red states with Hispanic populations smaller than the 16 percent national average (Wyoming’s is only 9 percent). But while anti-immigration reform may still be a popular issue for the GOP base in such states as Wyoming, it’s hardly the slam-dunk it’s been for many Republican politicians in previous years. Brock McCleary, president of Harper Polling, explained, “Republicans — conservative, moderate, whatever they may be — have found that impeding progress on reform, standing in the way of getting this problem solved, has really exacerbated it.”

It won’t negatively impact the political careers of either Enzi or Barrasso if they ultimately vote against immigration reform – they possess perhaps two of the safest seats in the U.S. Senate. But I hope that on this vital issue, Wyoming’s senators can put aside their predictable response to play to their base and at least this time seriously consider what’s best for the majority of people in the state.

If I could, I’d transport both of our senators to the U.S.-Mexico border in Nogales, and let them see first-hand how families are kept apart by policies so focused on punitive measures that the human element is completely left out of the search for a solution. And then, after pointing out to them that our border security is tighter than ever, I’d ask them how it could be wrong, in any reasonable person’s eyes, to establish a path to legal citizenship for the many people who have already been living otherwise respectable, law-abiding lives that contribute many positive things to the nation, as well as help our economy.

Wyoming needs to put Enzi and Barrasso on notice that it will be closely watching the upcoming immigration debate and vote. We didn’t send them to Washington to ignore what a strong majority of our residents want to see done to resolve this issue, which means so much to the future of Wyoming and the nation. We need them to be statesmen.

— Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake is the editor-in-chief of The Casper Citizen, a nonprofit, online community newspaper. It can be viewed at www.caspercitizen.com.

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Kerry Drake

Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake has covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Cheyenne and...

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  1. What strange reasoning, “how families are kept apart by policies so focused on punitive measures…”
    Why don’t we pardon all the criminals in prison? They have families too!
    Isn’t it true that the person who broke our law is the one who has brought the hardship of separation on their families? Just like every other criminal?
    Until the boarder is secured and the flow of illegals stops we can not affords to give these people amnesty.

  2. Typical GOtP obstruction plain and simple, this state’s voting record of (R) only is no longer a viable solution, (Cindy anyone?) come on people,, THINK!!!

  3. The 1986 immigration reform bill is known as the Simpson – Mazzoli Imigratioon bill if I r ecall. It was one of the very few bills that actually had Al Simpson’s stamp on it in his 18 years as a US Senator from Wyoming . ( The only other bill of note was his Veterans Administration overhaul bill that elevated the V.A. to Cabinet level).

    So maybe Wyoming’s current reps should take the trail that Al blazed for them 27 years ago and get down to the business of real immigration reform instead of ideologic faux reform and 2-dimensional fraternization.

    After all, the Congressional Budget Office came out this week with a nonpartisan study saying the proposed Gang of 8 bill would be a generous net gain to the US Treasury , reduce the deficit dramatically , and bolster the economy as a whole by modernizing the work requirements and labor laws as it intends. Hard to argue with that .

    If all the undocumented Hispanics in the US disappeared tomorrow into that pink movie fog ** , this nation’s economy would break down and stall out immediately.

    ** A Day Without A Mexican , 2004

  4. Enzi and Barrasso undoubtedly believe their stance is justified because of the successive new waves of immigration that followed the 1986 immigration reform. They fail to take into account, however, that that piece of legislation did not allow for the needed immigrant labor in important sectors of the economy – both skilled and unskilled. The resulting illegal immigration throughout the 1990s and beyond was simply a “black market” response” to laws that made no economic sense, much in the way prohibition set the stage for moonshine. Unfortunately, Enzi and Barrasso too often choose the lazy path – rather than engaging the public, addressing the facts and balancing a number of interests they retreat into hard-right positions.

  5. Mr. Drake has called it correctly. With such a small number of illegal aliens to in the state Enzi and Barrasso are not being pressured to vote for this so-called immigration reform. Follow the money! It is interesting that the main quote is from the Wyoming Restaurant and Lodging Association, a group that needs a constant supply of maids and cooks.

    This is This is not about ideals or uniting families;it is about the new slavery that is being allowed in the USA. The sign at the border should read: “Bienvenidos, Nuevos Esclavos!” If we cared about families we would have kept our borders strong and made sure that separation of family units did not occur by allowing shadow citizens. Maybe you should have our former senator, Alan Simpson, made a comment for future articles about the success of the 1986 Simpson-Mazzoli Act that was to have prevented this very issue.

    It took black Americans a century or so to throw off their chains. Perhaps it will be even longer for this group. Without education (many can barely read Spanish much less English) and with poor paying jobs what are their expectations? If the current legislation prevails (which I sincerely doubt) they will be almost-citizens without a right to vote, without healthcare and at the back of the citizenship line. They might be better off to go home and apply legally.

    And maybe all the rich, elites like Rachel Maddow should sponsor an immigrant and help them become citizens legally instead of speechifying.

  6. Looking at the voting records of Uncle Mike, Dr. No and Cindy Lou, one can find numerous votes where they have voted as extreme conservatives — even voting as minorities of their own parties. This is just one example among many in Senate votes.
    Their hostility toward the White House, the Democratic majority in the Senate and the Democratic minority in the House, is knee-jerk obstructionism, pure and simple.

  7. Its time for Wyoming to get better representation in the Senate. Actions by these two senators such as this, as well as other actions like this are what makes congress function so poorly and the deserved low opinion the public has of congress.