No timetable for immigration reform

Bipartisan delegation hears cross-border views on migration since Biden’s visit

EL PASO, TX (Border Report) — A bipartisan panel of senators heard El Paso’s views on migration a day after President Biden visited a stretch of the border that has seen a record flow of migrants in the past three months.

Lawmakers, led by Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas and independent Kirsten Sinema of Arizona, said they were clear the country needed new laws to ensure safe, humane, orderly and legal migration. They just don’t know when a polarized Congress will be able to pass such laws.

“I have never seen the border in such a bad state. […] I have never seen so many Americans die from drugs. This is a crisis,” Cornyn said at a press conference at Bassett High School, which has been converted into a migrant shelter. “Our task is to solve this complex, multifaceted problem. The challenge is to find the only solution.”

On Monday, four Republicans, three Democrats and one independent senator toured the border and met with local officials and leaders of nonprofit organizations that serve migrants. Local residents stressed that they have been working hard to manage the release of migrants on parole from U.S. Border Patrol custody, averting a much larger humanitarian crisis. But they called on senators to help find a permanent solution to unpredictable migration flows.

“We continue to put a band-aid on a broken system. You can (throw) money on it, but then you have to keep throwing money on it,” El Paso Mayor Oscar Lizer said. “It’s not an El Paso problem, it’s not a US problem, it’s an (international) problem. We need to work with other countries […] The money will be needed until something changes.”

Cinema said it is aware that federal government inaction could leave border cities like El Paso and its Yuma, Arizona, vulnerable to further migration crises. She pledged that the bipartisan coalition will continue to work on possible solutions on Capitol Hill.

Cinema late last year proposed an immigration reform framework that it hopes could lead to a bill acceptable to Democrats and Republicans alike. “It would be premature to give estimates or dates (under immigration law). What is more important is to watch this (synergy) grow,” she said.

Cornyn said he, too, proposed “bipartisan, bicameral” immigration reform in the last Congress, but it didn’t win support. He said there was an urgent need to move forward because the next major migration crisis could be just around the corner. Migrant flows to El Paso and other key border towns have declined substantially since the Supreme Court on Dec. 27 suspended a federal court-mandated Section 42 halt to removals.

“What we see today (in El Paso) is not what we saw three weeks ago and what we will see next week,” he said. “We have this bipartisan group of senators trying to navigate a very difficult political terrain. Our goal must be an orderly, safe, humane and legal immigration system. (But) we must also be candid enough to admit that what we see today is neither safe nor orderly nor humane nor lawful.”

Bands, officials stick to their mission

The senators also held a round table on immigration on Monday, where representatives from humanitarian groups and law enforcement stood firm in their beliefs.

El Paso Catholic Diocese Bishop Mark J. Seitz and Annunciation House Executive Director Ruben Garcia urged senators to ease the path to shelter for migrants living in El Paso South Church as they lack the immigration parole needed to move. The migrants slept in and around Sacred Heart Church.

Texas Department of Public Safety soldiers patrol the Sacred Heart Church near the border in South El Paso on January 6, 2022. (Fernie Ortiz/Border Report)

“It’s not part of the church to check people’s documents,” Seitz said, adding that the church accepted migrants when temperatures dropped below freezing last month. “We don’t do smuggling; we just want to make sure nobody dies on the street.”

“The church does not include checking people’s documents. … We don’t do smuggling; we just want to make sure nobody dies on the street.”

El Paso Bishop Mark Seitz

Garcia urged visiting senators to give both “unprocessed” migrants a window of 24 to 48 hours to report to immigration authorities and apply for parole, but with a guarantee that they will not be expelled from the country.

He also urged the Texas Department of Public Safety, which increased its presence in El Paso after the city issued a disaster announcement last month, to ensure it does not arrest migrants or volunteers helping them.

DPS regional director Jose Sanchez told the meeting that the state intervened to ensure the safety of its residents as federal agents tasked with securing the borders are busy with paperwork for migrants.

“This crisis has tied the agents of the border guard. They were out of line. If you don’t have a border patrol, he says, it’s an open border if drugs or dangerous people can get into Texas cities.

Cornyn later said that he thought the DPS could play a role in helping with the migrant crisis.

“We all have different roles,” Kornin said. “It’s not the job of the DPS or the National Guard to enforce immigration law, but if you have 2,000 miles of frontier and the federal government isn’t doing much, the states should be doing what they can, and I believe that’s what (Gov. Texas Greg) Abbott does. […] The answer is for the federal government to step up and do its job.”

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