On the last Thursday of June, an immigration reform bill passed in the U.S. Senate. In some houses that night, there were cheers and applause, tears of joy and hope. In other houses, there were tears of sorrow and frustration, feelings of anger and betrayal.
The Senate immigration reform bill that emerged from the Judiciary Committee on May 21 was a work of political art, a carefully crafted bipartisan bill that was good but not perfect, ambitious but not overreaching. The committee process was an example of the U.S. Congress functioning at its best: a measured, respectful debate with dozens of amendments considered from both sides of the aisle.
But what happened on the Senate floor showed Congress at its worst. In an effort to win more votes, the bill’s cosponsors worked with Senators Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and John Hoeven (R-N.D.) on a “border surge” amendment, increasing border security funding in the bill from $8 billion to $46 billion, mandating hundreds of miles of new fencing, and doubling the current border patrol force to nearly 40,000.
The amendment text read like a shopping list, specifying the number and types of drones, sensors and helicopters to be purchased for each border sector. Senator Leahy (D-Vt.) described it as “a Christmas wish list for Halliburton” and other military contractors.
The border surge amendment passed with all 52 Democrats, 2 Independents and 15 Republicans voting in favor. And, just like that, the best interests of border communities were sacrificed in the name of “border security.”
We are left asking how best to love two neighbors. This immigration bill holds so much hope for the millions of immigrant families caught in a broken system—the little girl whose mother was just deported; the father, afraid he will lose everything; the young woman torn from the only home she has ever known.
But border communities are also crying out in anguish, saying “Enough is enough! Stop building walls through our cities and fields, stop bringing more guns and uniforms to our streets, stop destroying our beautiful natural habitat.
A border security bill now being debated in the House of Representatives provides a mere fraction of the border surge, containing no increase in fencing or border patrol officers. So, a Senate amendment designed to attract the interest of more House members now far exceeds (in terms of border security) what the House itself has proposed.
“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19).
We should not be in the business of choosing one neighbor over another, when all are members of the household of God. It is wrong for one community to suffer more in order for another to receive greater justice. All should be able to live with dignity, as whole families, free from fear and able to pursue the fullness of life.
As immigration reform moves forward, there will undoubtedly be more difficult choices ahead. Unless our elected officials hear more outrage at proposals like the border surge, they will continue to perpetuate such injustices.
As debate now moves to the U.S. House, let your representative know that you want her/him to work toward a just and humane immigration reform that keeps families together but does not add to the militarization of our southern border.