As Senate passes its version of comprehensive immigration reform, immigrant rights advocates withdraws support over provisions that increase border militarization and demand president Obama halt all deportations
JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.
On Thursday, the Senate passed a sweeping immigration reform bill with a final vote. The bill was drafted by a bipartisan group of senators known as the Gang of Eight, and this week they tacked on an amendment that doubles the number of border patrol troops to 40,000 and totals the price tag of this border search to $35 billion. Now this plan, which was meant to attract conservatives, is losing liberal supporters.
One of these groups that came out today and opposed the bill is Presente.org. We’re joined by its executive director, Arturo Carmona [snip] director of Presente.org, a dynamic national organization that exists to amplify the political voice of Latino communities. His organization was in support of the Senate immigration reform bill before the Corker-Hoeven amendment was added. Now they’ve come out to strongly oppose it.
Thank you for joining us.
ARTURO CARMONA, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, PRESENTE.ORG: Thank you, Jaisal.
NOOR: Arturo, you originally supported the bill, and now you’ve come out to oppose it. Can you tell us exactly why you have come to this position?
CARMONA: Well, you know, the bill over the last few weeks has significantly transformed. Just last week we saw that the Congressional Budget Office did an analysis that said that as a result of all the amendments and the rightward turn that the bill had experienced as a result of the wheeling and dealing in Washington, 3.5 million undocumented immigrants–that’s one out of every three undocumented immigrants–would have virtually been left out of the solution. It wouldn’t have had any opportunity to legalize. And even more millions would have been left out of the pathway to citizenship. Now this is a conservative estimate coming out of the Congressional Budget Office. Many other experts predicted that the bill could exclude up to half of the population. So when you look at that, the bill was already a compromise bill that was on the red line in our opinion. And this Corker amendment makes a very conservative bill, a right bill, a right-wing bill, an extreme bill that cannot be accepted.
And, you know, we have to draw the line, the Latino community, at some point. You know, we just polled the Latino community about three weeks ago with a major Latino polling firm, Latino Decisions. They’re one of the most respected across the nation. And they told us that across the board on different issues they had deep concerns about the bill before the Corker-Hoeven amendment. Now, with this amendment, this really crosses a line on what Latinos clearly voted for in the November election. And they voted for legalization. They voted for an end to the deportations and the separation of families. And this really goes against that.
NOOR: And, Arturo, when the bill was first released, many critics were against this registered provisional immigration status, calling it an avenue to secure a temporary and exploitable labor force. Why did your organization first support this bill and this provision?
CARMONA: Well, you know, I think that as an organization, we saw that there needed to be some kind of a compromise and that it was–you know, the Latino community, as I stated, voted for pathway to citizenship [incompr.] looked at all the polls. Immigration is a galvanizing issue in the Latino community. It is very important.
You know, when you see all the suffering that’s happened over the last three, four years, when you’ve seen historic deportations of nearly 1.7 million people being separated from their families, from their loved ones, there’s a great sense of desperation. And so you need a solution. And so we along with many organizations across the movement were willing to look at different aspects of the bill and really find a balanced approach.
But I’ve got to tell you that that balanced approach began to look very different when the Gang of Eight began to really take the bill from already a pretty right-leaning bill to an extreme bill at this point. And the bill, even before these amendments, contained not only the pieces that you’re citing, but it also contained already pretty exorbitant levels of enforcement, you know, continued detention centers that would jail immigrants in private detention centers. It included in enforcement within the country, not only on the border. It included a lot of stuff that we weren’t necessarily supportive.
But, again, the desperation of these families required for a balanced approach. This by far goes against that balanced approach and makes it really an extreme bill that we need to figure out how to bring back to the original goal. Right? Everybody after the election was saying this is about the Latino electorate, this is about, you know, addressing an issue so that we don’t have to deal with it in future elections. But, you know, the reality is much different. The bill is in a much different place. And somebody’s got to speak out about it.
NOOR: And can you talk about why this proposed increase in border militarization is causing so much concern?
CARMONA: Well, you’re talking about, you know, increasing the number of border patrols by 20,000. That’s almost doubling the size of the border patrol. When you consider that $40 billion for border security will be allocated over the next ten years, you know, and when there has been no justice involving border patrol agents that have abused their authority time after time over the last few years, when in fact you already are seeing that illegal border crossings are down to a trickle–the president just said that a few days ago. The investment in security and border enforcement, immigration enforcement is at $18 billion now. That surpasses all of the other federal enforcement agencies combined. That’s the DEA, the FBI. So the enforcement infrastructure, it’s already at–you know, it’s bursting. This is really what–you know, even Senator McCain called it overkill. The Republican leaders on this bill call it, like, an exaggeration.
As immigrant rights advocates, as an organization that represents Latino communities all across the border–and we see the suffering and the abuse that’s happening–you know, there’s no question why, you know, families and communities and leaders are really enraged by this, you know, really illogical form of addressing an issue that’s really not there.
NOOR: And what’s your message to immigrant rights organizations and advocates that have said they’re not happy with this provision but they’re going to maintain their support because this still does create a path for legalization for the 11 or 12 million undocumented immigrants in this country?
CARMONA: I would say that they need to read the bill. The bill does not legalize the 11 to 12 million undocumented immigrants. We need to do as a movement a much better analysis of what’s actually in the bill over a thousand pages. All of these effects are going to start to come out. And we predict that more and more groups–we’re already hearing it from many of our allies preparing to come out against this bill. Once the dust settles–you know, all this rolled out really fast. We just heard about this agreement on Friday, and already we’re voting on this bill. This is the way things happen in D.C. But when the dust settles, we’re going to see that a lot more of these details are going to emerge. The CBO assessment and many others are starting to force many organizations to run away from this bill.
I think that at the end of the day, we’re all going to come together and say, you know what, the original goal was to legalize the 11 million, to find a clear pathway to citizenship, have a balanced approach on the border and security are not being met by this bill, and you’re going to have a lot of minds changing on this policy.
NOOR: Now, this bill is expected or surely will have an uphill battle in the House. What is your organization’s plans moving forward? What are going to be your next steps regarding this bill and regarding your continued work around immigration reform? And what is your message to President Obama? It’s, like, very well known now that he has escalated deportations and devastated a lot of communities around the country.
CARMONA: Yeah, great question. I think that it’s very clear for us that, you know, the fight continues. The House already said that they’re not going to take on the Senate bill. Speaker Boehner just yesterday said that they will actually initiate a new bill. So the process starts over in the House. We will–similar to what we did in the Senate, we will follow that process and we will try to elevate our voices.
Let’s not fool ourselves. Our battles in the House are going to be much more difficult, and the prospect for getting an inclusive pro-migrant bill are very slim to none. So, you know, we have our work cut out for us.
And so I think the idea here is to really galvanize the community around some key priorities that were stated, you know, throughout the election and throughout this process, and really ensure that the media also is covering the facts. We are not talking about a bill here that will legalize 11 million undocumented immigrants anymore. We’re talking about a bill that will exclude one out of every three. And so we need to make sure that the goalposts come back to the original place where they were, and then we work around that framework.
And in terms of President Obama, we have a very clear message to him: stop the deportations. You’re dividing families, you’re separating families, that we’re trying to find a solution at this very moment. It’s an illogical policy. The president has the authority and wherewithal to, through administrative action, stop these nonsensical deportations that are happening every day of families that are contributing to this country and to the economy in many ways that are well documented. And that’s why the American population now at unprecedented levels now supports a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. So follow the will of the people, stop these senseless deportations, and stop separating the families. That would be our clear message to him.
NOOR: And, finally, do you think it’s important for this country to address why undocumented immigrants come to this country in the first place?
CARMONA: Absolutely. I have met many immigrants. You know, my dad’s an immigrant. He came several decades ago. My mom, too. And I meet immigrants every day throughout the country. And most immigrants that I meet don’t want to come to the United States in the first place. They want to stay in their hometowns, in their places of origin. And the reasons that they come here are economic.
And so as a result of globalization, as a result of changes in the economies in Mexico and Central America, hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced. So addressing the root causes of immigration reform is another thing that is really not being discussed at this moment. It’s not integrated in this bill. Until we address that, we’re going to continue to see these pressures.
So I think it’s fundamentally important that we also have that discussion and we address the root economic issues of immigration in the first place. And I think that that needs a very different sort of conversation. That needs to have a conversation that’s collaborative, that’s regional, and that looks at the problem as a regional issue. You know, Europe, other models around the world have looked at this issue, and they have developed innovative models. We should think of it in isolation. So it’s a very important question you raise.
NOOR: Thank you so much for joining us.
CARMONA: Thank you.
NOOR: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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