House passes border fence bill

On Sept. 14, the House of Representatives voted 283-138 in favor of a bill calling for construction of 700 miles of double-layered fencing along several sections of the 2,000-mile US border with Mexico: around Tecate and Calexico, California; along most of the Arizona stretch; and in heavily populated areas of Texas and New Mexico. All but six House Republicans joined 64 Democrats in approving the bill. The bill requires the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to prevent “all unlawful entries” into the US within 18 months after the bill is enacted; urges DHS to allow Border Patrol agents to forcibly disable fleeing vehicles; provides for more cameras, ground sensors and unmanned aerial vehicles; and orders a study on security at the northern border with Canada to determine whether a fence is needed there. (Los Angeles Times, Washington Times, Sept. 15) The fence measure was already included in HR 4437, which passed the House last Dec. 16. The nearly 2,000-mile US-Mexico border currently has about 75 miles of fencing. (Washington Post, Sept. 15)

The bill doesn’t include funding for the fence. Republicans estimate the cost at more than $2 billion, and say it will be covered in a later spending bill. Democrats estimate the fence would cost $7 billion, based on information from the DHS on costs per mile of a double-layer fence. “This is nothing more than political gamesmanship in the run-up to the midterm elections. Sounds good. Does nothing,” said Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL). (AP, Sept. 14)

Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in an interview that House Republicans’ plan to push tough border security measures through Congress before the Nov. 7 elections might help the party in some districts, but not others. “On balance, I’m not certain it’s a political winner,” said Lugar. (Chicago Tribune, Sept. 15)

Republican legislators promoted the fence bill as the first phase of a larger border-security package they unveiled Sept. 14. The broader package would increase the number of Border Patrol agents, step up prosecution of immigrant smugglers and criminalize the building of tunnels under the border. It would also cancel the 1988 Orantes injunction, a provision protecting Salvadorans from expedited removal. (New York Times, LAT, Sept. 15) DHS has been actively pushing for an end to the Orantes injunction since last November.

With Congress focusing on enforcement and DHS stepping up its crackdowns on employers who hire out-of-status immigrant workers, some business owners–especially in the agricultural sector–are getting nervous. “The status quo is killing farmers,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA). “They are desperate. I’ve never seen anything like it.” On Sept. 13 farmers, restaurant owners and other businesspeople dependent on immigrant labor staged a rally outside the Capitol in Washington, DC to press their concerns. (LAT, Oregon Capital Press, Sept. 15)

Raids shake Northern California

On Sept. 7 and 8, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents arrested 107 immigrants from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and India in a sweep through the northern California towns of Watsonville, Hollister and Santa Cruz. The raids were part of “Operation Return to Sender,” which according to ICE targets “criminal aliens, foreign nationals with final orders of deportation, and other immigration violators.” Only 19 of the 107 people arrested had prior criminal convictions. One was turned over to the Fresno Police Department on an outstanding arrest warrant. By Sept. 11, at least 87 of those detained had already been removed from the US. (ICE press release, Sept. 11; Santa Cruz Sentinel, Sept. 10)

Communities Organized for Relational Power in Action (COPA), an interfaith coalition in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties, held a meeting on Sept. 9 at Our Lady Star of the Sea church in Santa Cruz to inform its members about the raids. At least four members of the church’s congregation were arrested in the raids, according to Barbara Meister of COPA. Most of those picked up in the sweep were men who had been brought to the US by their parents while they were children, according to lawyers Doug Keegan, of the Santa Cruz County Immigration Project in Watsonville, and Alisa Thomas, based in the Santa Cruz suburb of Live Oak. (Santa Cruz Sentinel, Sept. 10; Watsonville Register-Pajaronian, Sept. 11) Thomas said those deported also included a mother of seven children, whose youngest child, 18 months old, went into convulsions and was hospitalized while the mother was being taken to Mexico. The children were left in the care of their father, who works two jobs. If the mother had been allowed to plead her case before an immigration judge, said Thomas, she probably would have been granted a stay. (R-P, Sept. 11)

COPA also organized a Sept. 13 press conference at Resurrection Catholic Church in Aptos, another Santa Cruz suburb where arrests took place, to denounce the raids. “Questionable laws are being enforced in an inhumane way,” said Patrick Conway, pastoral associate at the church. “While we call for legislators to reform immigration laws, we cannot stand by silently while this is being done to our families.” Among some 50 community members participating in the press conference was the owner of a residential care home in Live Oak, who spoke about the deportation of a Mexican man who cooked meals for the home’s residents. The deported man’s wife, a caregiver at the same home, also attended. Ralph Porras, assistant superintendent of Santa Cruz City Schools, said the raids have sparked “apprehension in the Latino community about the safety of their children.” The fear has apparently led some people to keep their children home from school. (Santa Cruz Sentinel, Sept. 14)

From Immigration News Briefs, Sept. 16

See our last posts on the immigration crackdown and the struggle for the border.