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Immigration Compromise Not Satisfying Skeptics On Border

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Immigration Compromise Not Satisfying Skeptics On Border

Immigration Compromise Not Satisfying Skeptics On Border

TUCSON, Ariz. — The U.S. Senate is expected to vote today on a surge of border enforcement that would virtually double the infrastructure and manpower already in place along the nation’s borders. Though along the U.S.-Mexico border, many say they are skeptical of the new plan.

The announced rush of agents and fencing to the border surprised many people. The plan, authored by Republican Senators John Hoeven of North Dakota and Bob Corker of Tennessee, calls for nearly doubling the U.S. Border Patrol from 21,000 to 38,000 agents. It will also add another 700 miles of fencing to the border and increase aerial and radar surveillance of the borderlands – all at a cost of at least $30 billion.

In Washington D.C., politicians called it a major compromise aimed at passing the most sweeping immigration reform in a generation. On the border, however, skeptics call it something else.

“One thing is clear, in Washington they are talking about the border in a way that doesn’t reflect the reality on the ground," said Fernando Garcia, director of the Border Network for Human Rights in El Paso, Texas. The group supports a path to citizenship for immigrants who came to the United States illegally. He says, he worries about this beefing up of the border.

Further west, Jim Chilton is a long-time Arizona rancher. His property runs from the Mexican border 20 miles north to the town of Arivaca. He welcomes the news of a massive surge and hopes it is voted in. For years, he’s criticized what he calls a U.S. Border Patrol inefficiency of capturing border crossers north of his ranch rather than at the border.

"The Border Patrol will no longer have the excuse that they don’t have enough people to actually support the border," he said.

But you'd be hard-pressed to find many more border residents welcoming the surge. Even the Border Patrol’s own union, the National Border Patrol Council, wonders how the Homeland Security Department is going to manage 17,000 new agents. Shawn Moran is union vice-president.

"We question the wisdom as to how they would fund and maintain 40,000 agents when they can’t maintain 21,000 at 100 percent staffing levels." He says that the sequestration cuts affecting agents now aren’t going to go away.

Some agents along the Mexican border report fuel rationings. Others complain of overtime cutbacks and some say even horse patrols have had to be cutback. One Border Patrol resource manager in the Tucson Sector said thousands of new agents might be good but he has no idea where they would work from.

Even local activists who want to restrict migration were unimpressed. Tim Rafferty is one of a dozen Arizona activists who are working to defeat the Senate bill. Rafferty says adding a border enforcement surge won't change their stance.

"It doesn't really do anything as long as they continue talking about giving the 11 million illegal aliens in our country any kind of temporary legal status. That is unacceptable," he said.

The amendment requires these security upgrades begin before anybody in the U.S. can go for a green card. But that delay has not satisfied many in the GOP-led house. That's where this bill, with the border surge amendment, if it passes, goes next. And passage there is anything but certain.

Fronteras Desk senior editor Michel Marizco is an award-winning investigative reporter based in Flagstaff.