Immigration Reform 2013: House GOP Takes Hard Line On Enforcement


It's no secret that Republicans have an image crisis on their hands. Look no further than the fact that they still refer to themselves as the Grand Old Party to understand their target audience. Immigration reform is supposed to be that shiny opportunity for Republicans to show that not only are they a more inclusive party than their leadership reflects, but that they can transcend lines in the sand to put forth a policy that benefits Americans and aspiring Americans and fixes our system once and for all.

But they're not taking the bait. The House Judiciary Committee is expected to take up the Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act (H.R. 2287), also known as the SAFE Act, which would give states and local governments the authority to enforce immigration laws. This is a sharp contrast to the Gang of Eight bill that is still making its rounds in the Senate. House Republicans are concerned that the Senate bill as it stands would provide a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented people here currently, while not doing enough to prevent future flows of undocumented folks.

What we have to hand to Republicans is their clever wordsmithing work on these bills. Who would argue against the "SAFE Act" or "No Child Left Behind" based on name alone? But behind the carefully constructed title lies the missing piece on enforcement, and that is how the militarization of our borders affects the communities along them. As an El Paso native, I know firsthand what it feels like to have border patrol race past you on the border highway. To see tanks and large guns downtown. And to be 100% honest, I don't feel much safer living in what feels like a war zone — especially given some of the unchecked violence by enforcement officers. This is not to mention that this system was meant to force people to cross the border at less-inhabited and more dangerous terrain.

The enforcement-first approach to immigration reform is how we have been operating for the last couple decades, and the border is more secure than ever. If Republicans were just trying to be thorough, then their enforcement demands would not be so frivolous. One of such demands was to have "operational control" of the borders, which would prevent all unlawful entries into the U.S. — something that has been deemed "unachievable" by the last three secretaries of homeland security.

If Republican lawmakers continue to make this their bottom line, Dems will budge a bit, but at what cost? Increased enforcement (read: spending) ultimately hurts our communities, reallocates money that could be used to uplift people, and makes the shaky foundation this bill is built on even more flawed. The bill will not fail if both sides start acting like this is a compromise, instead of talking in absolutes. By setting a hard, unrealistic boundary, the Republican Party is setting itself up for failure and missing out on the easiest opportunity to rebrand itself that it has ever been given.