Undocumented Immigrants to Washington, D.C.: Don’t Shut Down Immigration Reform

In an attempt to move Republican leaders in the House to reignite the immigration reform debate, thousands of immigrants in more than 140 cities marched on Saturday, demanding reform and an end to deportations. The demonstrations set the stage for a larger protest planned for tomorrow in Washington, D.C.

In Texas, thousands marched. Houston saw the biggest turnout, with organizers estimating nearly 2,000 demonstrators. Close to 1,000 people took to the streets in Dallas, according to organizers, and rallies in Austin, San Antonio and Corpus Christi drew hundreds. Huge demonstrations in Phoenix, New York and Los Angeles sent the same message to Washington: Immigrants are no longer afraid, but they are tired of waiting.

“The government shutdown isn’t going to shut down the issue,” says Connie Paredes, who helped organize the Dallas march with Texas Organizing Project. “The issue is still there and we’re going to continue fighting for immigration reform and for a pathway to citizenship.”

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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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Federal Immigration Reform Proposals Ignore Workers’ Rights

As the immigration debate continues on the national stage, one issue is consistently left out of the conversation: workers’ rights. Texas has the second-largest undocumented population in the country, and in 2011 the state accounted for 16 percent of construction permits issued in the U.S. (more than Florida and California combined). Many undocumented immigrants take construction jobs, becoming easy targets for employers trying to cut costs by exploiting workers.

The Austin-based nonprofit organization, Workers Defense Project, says workers’ rights need to be part of the conversation as legislators in Washington, D.C. hash out immigration reform. On Thursday the group released a study, “Build a Better Nation,” that found 50 percent of all construction workers in Texas are undocumented. Workers Defense and University of Texas researchers surveyed 1,194 construction workers in Austin, Houston, Dallas, El Paso and San Antonio for the study. About 70 percent of construction workers in Texas are concentrated in these areas, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

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Texans March for Immigration Reform in Austin

A steady throng of demonstrators marched down Congress Ave. to the Capitol Friday morning, carrying huge colorful banners and signs with messages like “I was born in the USA – Don’t take my mommy and daddy away!” and “End detentions now!” The demonstrators came from all over the state and represented about 30 organizations calling for “fair and just immigration reform that provides dignity and rights for all.”

Immigration reform rallies in 2006 drew massive crowds (Dallas reportedly had 500,000 demonstrators) and were predominantly staged in response to the Border Protection, Antiterrorism and Illegal Immigration Control Act pushed by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin). Though the march today was much smaller (the Austin Police Department estimates less than 1,000 people participated), the message was still clear: immigrants are coming out of the shadows and demanding that the federal government finally pass an immigration reform plan that grants them more rights.

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Conservative Groups Push Immigration Reform with ‘Texas Compact’

The topic of immigration is seldom discussed these days in the Texas Legislature, but Texans still want a seat at the table in Washington, D.C., where immigration reform has finally gained traction and bipartisan support. A group of conservative religious and business leaders, pushing a set of immigration goals they call the Texas Compact, wants to ensure Texas has a role in new immigration laws by lobbying Texas’ federal legislators to get behind reform.

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