Today the Senate passed the Corker-Hoeven amendment, intended to boost border security by adding 20,000 more border agents, increase border fencing to 700 miles, and utilize enhanced surveillance methods to monitor the border between the United States and Mexico. The amendment’s intent is to ease passage of the immigration reform bill in the Senate and more importantly the House of Representatives, since the main sticking point for many Republican legislators was that they did not feel the original bill did enough to secure the border.
But how will the military style “border surge” amendment impact the existing humanitarian crisis along the border?
Enrique Morones is the founder and president of Border Angels, a nonprofit group whose goal is to stop the deaths of immigrants traveling through the desert and mountain areas of the border. Morones flatly stated, “Increased border enforcement is not going to help the humanitarian situation along the border. Adding to the wall and doubling agents will only increase the number of deaths.”
Morones explained that when additional fencing is added to the border, the flow of migrants is simply diverted to other areas that tend to be more dangerous for migrants to cross.
A report that was released in March by the National Foundation for American Policy found that deaths along the border had increased by 27% in 2012. In 1998, there were 263 immigrant deaths at the border when there was about half the number of border agents; in 2012, there were 477 immigrant deaths at the border. Yet this increase in deaths at the border coincides with a time when fewer people are attempting to enter illegally.
Arizona based border advocacy groups, including No More Deaths, are calling on Congress to step away from the negotiating table to try to find a pathway to citizenship that is not dependent upon further criminalizing of immigrants and additional militarization of the border.
Sarah Launius, a spokeswoman for No More Deaths, said, “Congress is talking about “militarizing” the border, as though that were a good thing. We know exactly what these provisions will do — they will cause more deaths here on the border.”
In recent years, border agents have come under scrutiny for excessive use of force. Last year, PBS aired footage of Border Patrol officers beating and using a taser gun on Anastasio Hernandez Rojas, who died shortly after the 2010 altercation. With additional agents, some are wondering what kind of training and oversight might be put in place in the immigration bill.
Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-California) said in a written statement expressing concern about the Hoeven-Corker amendment. Roybal-Allard states that “while most Border Patrol agents are dedicated, conscientious law enforcement officers, the rapid growth of the Patrol in recent years has unfortunately coincided with a marked increase in complaints by immigrants and members of border communities.”
The California Congresswoman adds that recent studies have shown that approximately 10 percent of migrants in Border Patrol custody suffer some form of physical abuse, and recent cross-border shootings involving Border Patrol have resulted in the deaths of innocent bystanders.
“If the Hoeven-Corker amendment becomes law, we must invest in creating a more professional Border Patrol, with stronger standards, tougher oversight and better training to reduce the prevalence of these abuses,” states Roybal-Allard.
While some are concerned about the human impact of added enforcement, Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida), who supported the Corker-Hoeven amendment, said yesterday that these measures were on the list of things that conservatives have wanted for years. On the Hugh Hewett show with guest host Ed Morrissey, Rubio said, “On the border security side of it, you know, the mandating of 700 miles of fence is something people have been asking for a long time, same with doubling the border agents.”
With passage of the Corker-Hoeven amendment, the Senate will now begin to vote on ending debate of the full immigration reform bill.
Adriana Maestas is a senior contributing editor at Politic365 and one of the co-founders of the DailyGrito.com. She resides in California.