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.
“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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