Senate-Passed Immigration Reform Bill Would Further Militarize Border

After years of polarizing debate and disagreement, the U.S. Senate passed the first “comprehensive” immigration reform bill in decades. The bill received bipartisan support, with 14 Republicans joining Senate Democrats and Independents in a 68-32 vote. But the bill’s provision for ramping up border security – and the reason it got conservative support – angered many residents along the border who are tired of militarization in their communities.

“This amendment makes border communities a sacrificial lamb, in exchange for the road to citizenship,” Christian Ramirez, director of San Diego’s Southern Border Communities Coalition told The New York Times.

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Texas Senators Split as U.S. Congress Takes Up Immigration Reform

The U.S. Senate’s vote Tuesday to debate the bipartisan Gang of Eight’s immigration bill on the Senate floor surprised DREAMers and bill negotiators, who had hoped for at least 60 votes to move the bill forward, but actually received 82 votes. The 15 senators who voted against the bill were Republicans, including Texas’ Ted Cruz, who said the bill would “make the problem of illegal immigration … worse rather than better.” Despite Cruz’s failed attempt to block the legislation, 28 Republicans voted to move forward on the bill, which would provide an eventual and conditional pathway to citizenship for the country’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants.
Texas’ other Senator John Cornyn voted to move the bill forward but then offered an amendment, which two bill negotiators referred to as a “poison pill.” Cornyn wants the ability to monitor every mile of the international border and a 90 percent apprehension rate of immigrants trying to cross it illegally. The amendment would bar undocumented immigrants from applying for legal status until after these and other conditions are met. Cornyn and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky say Cornyn’s amendment is essential to securing conservative support in both chambers. But border residents say they’re sick of border fences being built around their homes and the increased surveillance and militarization of their communities, which has only resulted in more migrant deaths along the border.

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On the Border, a Struggle Over Water

Drought is different along the border. Unlike Central Texas, which worries over its aquifers and its lakes, or East Texas, which jealously guards its mammoth reservoirs from booming cities, or the Panhandle, which is draining the Ogallala Aquifer, the border depends on a desert river that divides two nations.

South Texas has come to rely on the Rio Grande, but the river is drying up. Global climate change and prolonged drought, coupled with Mexico’s failure to deliver the water it’s supposed to under an international treaty, have taken a toll on the region’s water supply.

In a state that ranks third in total agricultural and livestock production in the nation, Texas farmers are worried. Crops may survive one year of scarce rainfall, but extended drought renders fields barren. Moreover, reduced snowpack in Colorado and New Mexico—which scientists link to climate change—means less water enters the Rio Grande upstream.

More than ever, the replenishing waters of Mexico’s Rio Conchos are crucial to reviving the Rio Grande and to saving farmers in the Rio Grande Valley. Texas politicians have taken to publicly denouncing Mexico and urging the U.S. government to force Mexico to deliver the water it’s supposed to.

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