Congress Negotiates … Something, But Not Essential Immigration Issues

C59kuFmfT1SI5uoIK36mBAUPDATED 10 a.m.: Congressional leaders announced that they have a deal, and they think Trump will sign it. According to the New York Times, the deal provides $1.4 billion for 55 miles of border fending—less than the deal Trump rejected in December. Congress continues to edge uneasily toward Friday, the next shutdown deadline. The wall remains at the center of Washington discourse, ignoring actual immigration issues:

“A real solution will provide dreamers with an earned pathway to citizenship. It will regularize the status of more than 300,000 longtime legal residents with temporary protected status who also, thanks to the policies of this administration, find themselves in legal limbo. A real solution would restore trust in law enforcement and promote public safety by implementing interior immigration enforcement policies that actually prioritize significant public-safety threats, not just those conjured up in the president’s mind.”

As Congress members continued their negotiations, six adults with TPS and two of their U.S. citizen children filed a class action suit challenging the termination of TPS for people from Honduras and Nepal, in the California federal court that has already enjoined the termination of TPS for people from Nicaragua, Haiti, Sudan, and El Salvador.

The wall remains at the center of the debate not only because of Trump, but because it has become a stand-in for “attitudes about the larger changes in culture, demography and gender relations that are reshaping American society.

“Who are we as a country? That’s the question on the table,” said Robert P. Jones, the founding CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute, a nonpartisan organization that studies public attitudes about religion and culture. “That’s a really fundamental question. And it’s getting fought out in this symbolic territory over something like a wall, which to both sides can symbolize some of their deepest values and conflicts with the other party.”

One sticking point for Congressional negotiators was a Democratic proposal to limit the number of detention beds available for undocumented migrants arrested inside the United States.

“Democrats say a cap of 16,500 beds [for immigrants arrested in the interior] in ICE detention centers would force the Trump administration to focus on detaining undocumented immigrants with criminal records instead of using indiscriminate sweeps that drag in otherwise law-abiding residents.”

The Democratic proposal came after DHS has overspent every allocation for detention, increasing the number of detention beds far beyond Congressional authorizations. ICE’s “arrest everybody, lock them up, and deport them all” policy has meant sparked anger over arrests of long-time U.S. residents who, though undocumented, have become respected and valued members of their communities.

The final agreement—if it is passed, and if it is signed by Trump—would roll back the overall number of beds to “40,520 beds, a decrease of about 17 percent from current levels, which Immigration and Customs Enforcement reached in recent months only by surpassing its funding caps.”

Besides funding for detention and a border wall, Trump also continues to demand money for hiring more Border Patrol agents. That’s ironic, since the Border Patrol cannot manage to fill the slots it already has:

Border Patrol’s struggles to recruit and keep agents present a seldom-discussed impediment to Trump’s efforts to lock down the U.S.-Mexico border — one that the Trump White House is reluctant to acknowledge….

“Shortly after taking office, the president signed an executive order that called for the hiring of 5,000 agents. More recently, his administration pushed a proposal that calls for 2,750 more agents, law enforcement officers and staff. But Border Patrol can’t hire enough people to fill jobs that were available before. Even as Congress provides funding to hire 21,370 agents, the patrol is more than 1,800 agents short of that mark.”

Even if fully staffed, the Border Patrol is the wrong tool for the job, the wrong approach to the changing face of immigration at the border. They are trained to catch immigrants sneaking across the border, not to deal with families who seek them out to turn themselves in and ask for asylum.

“In a two-day span in January, 362 migrants surrendered to the Border Patrol in Antelope Wells, overwhelming the small base’s capacity to process asylum requests. Last week, a new group of 306 migrants arrived at the same location, including children in need of immediate medical care — a situation officials in New Mexico say is without precedent.….

“Pushing migrants toward remote desert locations puts them at higher risk of dehydration, heatstroke or hypothermia. Most are choosing the more dangerous crossing routes because they have been foreclosed from seeking asylum at the more widely traveled border crossings, said Fernando Garcia, director of the Border Network for Human Rights in El Paso. “How else to explain the desperation of thousands of people making it to the middle of nowhere just so they can surrender to Border Patrol?”

 

About Mary Turck

News Day, written by Mary Turck, analyzes, summarizes, links to, and comments on reports from news media around the world, with particular attention to immigration, education, and journalism. Fragments, also written by Mary Turck, has fiction, poetry and some creative non-fiction. Mary Turck edited TC Daily Planet, www.tcdailyplanet.net, from 2007-2014, and edited the award-winning Connection to the Americas and AMERICAS.ORG, in its pre-2008 version. She is also a recovering attorney and the author of many books for young people (and a few for adults), mostly focusing on historical and social issues.
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