Tucson activists: Immigration reform a 'jobs bill for the military'
Even as some advocates in Washington D.C. celebrated the U.S. Senate's passage of an immigration reform bill, the inclusion of new security requirements has prompted activists in the borderlands to protest the bill's passage.
Citing the "border surge" elements of the bill, about 50 protestors gathered Thursday outside of the Evo A. DeConcini U.S. Courthouse in Tucson, arguing that the amendments added to garner Republican support in the Senate would hurt residents in border communities.
The protestors said that the reform bill is a "slap in the face" that will lead to an increase in civil rights abuses and more deaths along the border.
"It's a jobs bill for the military," said Sarah Launius, with No More Deaths, "It's a farce to call this reform when it's really the militarization of the border, spent on troops on the ground."
While the bill may create a path for citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants reportedly "living in the shadows," the bill will also create a dense layer of border enforcement.
The amendment requires the hiring of nearly 20,000 more Border Patrol agents, doubling the force at a cost of $30 billion. Another $16.3 billion would be spent on the construction of 700 miles of border fence, the creation of a new biometric entry-exit system for international travelers, as well as the deployment of fixed sensor towers, camera systems, and an expansion of the drone fleet all along the border. Many of the bill's reforms hang on the successful deployment of security measures, including surveillance of 100 percent of the border between the United States and Mexico.
Guadalupe Barrios, 26, a protestor who led chants through a megaphone, agreed calling the immigration reform "fake."
"They're calling it immigration reform, but it's about national security," he said. "If those who are supposed to represent us would really do so, they would listen to the people and realize, we don't want this".
No More Deaths released a statement opposing the immigration bill, calling the pathway to citizenship "fatally flawed" and arguing that the border "surge," the roughly two-fold increase of Border Patrol agents "arbitrary and unnecessary."
During the protest in Tucson, six women appeared dressed in black as symbols of death. Written on their stomachs, the women had the number of bodies discovered in the desert and ;on their shoulders, the year of those deaths. On their backs, were the names of those killed by Border Patrol agents in cross-border shootings.
On Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva criticized the bill on the floor of the House, arguing that the lack of rescue and humanitarian relief didn't address the problems on the border.
"I guarantee you that over a 10-year period, if 6,000 people had perished in any other part of this world, we would be calling it a human rights and humanitarian crisis. It doesn't get the attention it should, but the tragedy continues," he said. "And with this increased security, people will look for further and more desolate areas to be dropped off by smugglers. And again the deaths will increase."
After the Senate vote, U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, a member of the bipartisan "Gang of Eight" that fashioned the bill, applauded the vote.
In a public statement, the Arizona Republican implored the House to pass the bill. "While neither side got everything it wanted, this legislation goes a long way toward securing our borders, modernizes our legal immigration system, spurs economic growth and provides a tough-but-fair solution to those here illegally," he wrote. "Now, it's time for the House to act."
The bill will now work its way through the House, where it's expected to face significant opposition.