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Year in review: Little movement on immigration reform

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Year in review: Little movement on immigration reform

  • A demonstrator marches through the streets of downtown Dallas to protest the passage of Arizona's controversial new immigration law.
    Caleb Bryant Miller/Texas TribuneA demonstrator marches through the streets of downtown Dallas to protest the passage of Arizona's controversial new immigration law.

The big news on the immigration front in 2013 is what didn’t happen.

Advocates for reform, including the immigrant community, law enforcement, and business and faith-based leaders, hoped this was the year for a comprehensive overhaul of the country’s immigration system. They argued that the anti-immigrant rhetoric on the 2012 campaign trail had energized Democrats and rattled moderate Republicans, who they hoped would take action on immigration reform for the first time since 1986.

In June, the U.S. Senate passed a bill that would have provided a 13-year path to citizenship for most of the estimated 11.2 million immigrants living in the country illegally, including about 1.7 million people in Texas. The measure also mandated 700 miles of pedestrian fencing along the nation's southern border, and would have added about 20,000 more U.S. Border Patrol agents to the region.

Months later, the issue was moot.

U.S. House leaders said they would not consider the Senate bill and instead favored a piecemeal approach. As early as September, border Democrats said they saw the window closing. They were right. Congress left Washington in December without the House considering any immigration measures.

At the state level, the 100-plus immigration bills filed in the 2011 legislative session didn’t make a comeback in 2013. In fact, about a dozen bills were filed, but not one made it through a committee. Analysts and lawmakers credited that to the record turnout by Latinos during the 2012 elections, but also said that alienating the growing demographic leading up to 2014 would be the death knell for some candidates seeking re-election.

Despite inaction by lawmakers, activists didn’t rest; protests and demands for change escalated enough to produce a split within the pro-reform movement. Members of the DREAM 9 in Arizona and the DREAM 34 in Texas — who were either deported to Mexico or voluntarily left — returned to the U.S. border in protest, knowing they would be unable to legally re-enter the country. Instead, they sought asylum here, drawing considerable media attention. Traditional asylum-seekers and activists for them were not in step, however. They claimed the stunts would only anger conservative lawmakers and hurt the asylum cases of people fleeing Mexico due to cartel violence.

In other border news, Ciudad Juárez elected a new mayor, Enrique Serrano Escobar. The candidate belongs to the same Institutional Revolutionary Party as his predecessor, and took the helm of a city experiencing a rebirth after years of bloodshed left more than 10,000 people dead.

But the effects of the drug war still linger. More human rights groups have formed, and some of their members now call Texas home. They have vowed to continue their efforts to pressure the Mexican government to answer for the thousands lost.

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