All eyes on border as House bill on immigration takes shape; groups hold out for hope

July 8, 2013

House Republicans will meet this week to plan their immigration strategy, which seems designed to push the issue to the right, but the Senate bill already faces a backlash on the left, where advocacy groups say the added border security is testing the limits of enforcement.

Many immigrant rights groups watched in despair as senators voted last month to add 20,000 Border Patrol agents and hundreds of miles of fencing in the Southwest.

As senators were voting, volunteers from the Reform Immigration for Texas Alliance were getting arrested for demonstrating outside Democratic Party offices in Dallas and Austin to protest what appeared to be a major reversal by Senate Democrats, who had said an earlier bill would provide enough border security.

“Our response was, ‘Look, we are not celebrating the bill,’” said Adriana Cadena, statewide coordinator for the Texas Alliance. She said her group hasn’t taken an official position on the legislation as a whole and sees good parts of it, including quick citizenship for Dream Act youths and agriculture workers, but members also wanted to register their disapproval of the “immense militarization and criminalization” in the final Senate bill.

Most immigrant rights groups remain on board. They say they are wary of the direction of the debate but that the additional border security provision hasn’t spoiled the entire bill.

“It was absolutely a difficult decision,” said Ruthie Epstein, a legislative policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union. “Nevertheless, we did ultimately decide, reluctantly, to support the bill moving forward because the bill retains its core commitment to providing a fair if difficult path to citizenship.”

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