© 2022 Texas Public Radio
Real. Reliable. Texas Public Radio.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Border Residents Question "Surge" Proposal

The senate’s recent plan to overhaul U.S. Immigration policy included a provision called the "Border Surge." It’s a multi-billion dollar plan that would double the size of the Border Patrol and expand the border fence.

The formal name for the Border Surge is the Corker-Hoeven-Border Security Amendment. Republican Senator John Hoeven of North Dakota is one of the authors, who said in a recent debate on the Senate floor, “This is a bi-partisan effort to secure the border as a first step in comprehensive immigration reform."

Hoeven put security triggers into the bill that must be met before opening a pathway to citizenship.

“Before illegal immigrants can get to a permanent legal status – green card status – we have tough requirements that must be met to insure the border is secure,” he added.

The surge amendment was a key reason Republicans in the Senate voted for the bill. It calls for border drones, 20,000 more border patrol agents, 700 miles of border fencing, a mandatory national e-verify system, and a bio-metric system at the nation’s ports. Senator Patrick Leahy said the 46-billion dollar deal was disappointing.

“It reads like a Christmas wish list for Halliburton,” the Vermont Democrat also said during the floor debate.

Leahy said he was sure that there were federal contractors high-fiving each other over the agreement.

“And this package is border security on steroids. Some are calling it a surge and that military reference makes sense because it is going to militarize hundreds of American communities in the Southwest,” Leahy said.

San Benito, Texas is one of those communities. About one hundred border residents turned out on an uncharacteristically rainy July morning to protest the plan. Hector Guzman Lopez says border residents are frequently stopped and questioned by the Border Patrol, and sometimes taken into custody for long periods of time.

“There have been ridiculous cases where the Border Patrol will go into a poor neighborhood and set up check points and start like asking people questions, you know? Of course the community is going to be terrorized by that,” Guzman Lopez said.

The Border Patrol says it’s just doing its job, enforcing the law. But when border residents find themselves in trouble with the Border Patrol they frequently come to La Union Del Pueblo Entero (LUPE) for help. LUPE is an organization that helps farm workers. The waiting room is decorated with posters of the founder Cesar Chavez, and it’s crowded with folks waiting to talk to an immigration expert.

One woman who wouldn’t give her name since she’s in the country illegally says it isn’t fair that she’s been cleaning houses in Texas for years, working hard, paying taxes and staying out of trouble. She’s worried what doubling the size of the Border Patrol will mean for her and her family.

Anabell Salamanga is a case handler at LUPE who says people are following the immigration debate closely. But they feel caught in the middle of the political tug-a-war.

“They don’t agree what’s going on but they also are very like torn because they need a comprehensive immigration reform but at the same time they don’t want to be negotiated for something that’s not a fair trade,” Salamanga said.

Opposition to the border surge in the Rio Grande Valley isn’t unanimous, but there’s enough disapproval to have captured the attention of region’s local congressmen like Democrat Filemon Vela.

“Just the symbolic nature of constructing more fence along the border [with] a country with whom we have such great business relationships doesn’t make any sense,” Vela said during a press conference.

Vela, along with fellow border Representatives, Democrats Henry Cuellar and Beto O’Rourke, are talking about voting against the Border Surge if and when it comes to the floor in Congress. However, that may not be enough to prevent the surge from passing in the Republican-controlled House.

David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi