As lawmakers on capitol hill gear up for another battle over immigration, a bipartisan bill appears to be taking shape. Nathan Rousseau Smith (@FantasticMrNate) reports.
SAN JUAN, Texas — Abraham Diaz would like nothing more than to see more protection from deportation for undocumented immigrants such as himself who were brought to the U.S. at a young age.
He also deplores the idea of a border wall slicing through his community and fears for his parents, also undocumented and living in this small border city.
“It’s tough,” said Diaz, 24, who came to San Juan with his parents and two siblings from Monterrey, Mexico, when he was 8 years old. “I want to say ‘yes’ to getting more protection. But I can’t. A wall would ruin this community.”
Diaz and thousands of other undocumented youths living on the border are currently stuck in the uncomfortable middle of a heated national immigration debate. As “DREAMers,” or children brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents, they would like a clear path to citizenship or better protection from deportation.
President Trump revealed an immigration plan that offers a path to citizenship for DREAMers but only if Congress agrees to earmark $25 billion for a border wall, which would be erected near Diaz’s home.
“Even if there’s a deal, we don’t want a wall,” he said.
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Last month, the government briefly shut down when Senate Democrats voted against a short-term spending bill because it didn’t include protection for DREAMers. Around one in five of the 3.6 million DREAMers in the U.S. live along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border, according to the Southern Border Communities Coalition.
Trump’s plan would also end the diversity visa lottery and drastically narrow family based immigration. The president has given Congress until March 5 to come up with a solution.
On Tuesday, White House chief of staff John Kelly waded into the debate when he told reporters that immigrants who hadn’t applied for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, were “too afraid” or “too lazy.” He said Trump would not renew the March 5 deadline.
That deadline and the immigration debate in general have stirred anxiety in this stretch of the Rio Grande Valley, said John-Michael Torres, of La Unión del Pueblo Entero, or LUPE, an immigrants’ rights group. In Trump’s first year, the area around San Juan has seen an increase in border patrol activity and deportations as well as more rallies by groups denouncing the prospect of a wall, he said.
Though many here would like to see a path to citizenship or more protection from deportation, the thought of a wall is even less palatable, Torres said. The money would be better spent on things the border really needs, such as better roads and schools or a veteran’s hospital, he said. “Twenty-five billion dollars for a border wall would be a slap in the face to the real needs of the border,” Torres said.
Any immigration deal would need a strong enforcement element attached to it, just as it would require some form of amnesty for DREAMers, said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies for the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington-based group that favors stricter border enforcement. Separating the two isn’t viable in today’s political climate, she said.
“There’s a logic to it and also a political reality,” Vaughn said. “It’s not ideal, but if anything is going to get done this seems like the best chance for it.”
Border DREAMers would like to see the enforcement part of any deal — especially funding for a wall — become untangled from an immigration bill.
Tania Chavez, 32, was sent to live in the U.S. from Reynosa, Mexico, with her brother when she was 14. She graduated from McAllen High School and obtained a bachelor’s degrees in business and two master’s degrees from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. A DREAMer and still undocumented, she can’t travel past the nearby checkpoints in Falfurrias.
Though she would cherish increased protection from deportation, she vehemently opposes a wall. “Our lives are not a bargaining chip,” said Chavez, who works as a contract fundraiser. “It’s important to recognize the contributions we have made to this country.”
Over Garcia, 20, a political science student and campaign manager who lives in Brownsville, said he favors strong enforcement at the border but doesn’t think a DACA extension is enough — DREAMers like him deserve a clear path to citizenship.
Garcia was brought to the U.S. from Tampico, Mexico, when he was 1. After graduating high school, he wanted to join the military but was rejected because of his immigration status. He said members of Congress and the White House need to get past their partisan differences and pass a viable plan for DREAMers. He said he still hopes to serve in the military.
“We’re Americans by heart, just not on paper,” Garcia said. “Those who say otherwise, I’d love to have a conversation with them.”
Follow Jervis on Twitter: @MrRJervis.
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