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Immigration Bill Moves Forward With Increased Border Security

June 25, 2013 1:21 p.m.


David Shirk, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of San Diego

Related Story: Immigration Bill Moves Forward With Increased Border Security


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: Our top story on Midday Edition, a bipartisan vote in the Senate Monday allowed the immigration reform bill to move forward. Yesterday's vote specifically approved an amendment for a border surge to increase border security. It now appears more likely that the Senate will pass the immigration reform bill in a vote expected later this week. But observers say since support of the amendment did not reach 70 votes, there's no clear signal to the house that Republicans are on board.

[ Audio Recording ]

CAVANAUGH: What do you think Monday's vote means to the outcome of the immigration reform bill?

VARGAS: Well, I think the Senate is going to in fact pass something that is going to make its way over here to the house. When you get 67 senators voting for something, I think clearly we're going to have something heading over to the House for us to look at.

CAVANAUGH: If the amendment, the border surge were part of an immigration reform package that was introduced in the House, would you support it?

VARGAS: I hate this amendment. I think it's a terrible amendment. I know that we're all going to have to give something that we believe in. However this is a hard one to swallow. But I'm not saying no. Let's take a look at it. But I think it's absolutely ridiculous. I mean, it's something that is overkill. What are they going to ask for now? Three lashes for every migrant that wants to amend their stay here? It really is truly ridiculous. But if that's the pound of flesh that they want, maybe we may have to do it.

CAVANAUGH: Do people who study the border think we need $38 billion more border security enhancement?

VARGAS: No. We need $38 billion on the border but to expedite trade and opportunities. That's where the money should be spent. Putting this more into trying to catch people who are crossing illegally is certainly the wrong way to go. You have all these problems at the border with this huge wait line. The opportunity really is in allowing people to cross legally and goods to cross legally. So they ought to be spending those $38 billion in infrastructure, not in what they want to do.

CAVANAUGH: Given your answer to the first question I asked you about this border surge, it seems to me what you're saying is that this amendment was added to the immigration reform bill in the Senate for purely -- it's a purely political move. It's not substantive. Am I hearing you correctly?

VARGAS: I think that's true. I think they added this amendment simply for political purposes. I don't think that there's a practical effect other than you're going to have a lot of agents standing around. You don't need them. I think it's certainly the wrong way to go. You're mill tarizing the border. So I think it was done purely for politics. That being said, sometimes politics is what you have to do to get somethings passed. But it was strictly done for political purposes, not because it was practical or the right thing to do.

CAVANAUGH: Congressman Vargas, what is going on in the House about immigration reform? We heard several weeks ago, speaker Boehner says he has no intention of stamping an immigration bill.

VARGAS: We had an opportunity to go talk to the speaker as the Hispanic caucus here. He's in a very difficult position with his caucus because there's so many of them that simply don't want anything. They think that the status quo is fine, and that's what they want to maintain. The only thing they want are more agents on the border trying to apprehend people. So it's going to be very difficult. However, there are some Republicans that are adamant that you got to have an immigration fix. They approach it from two different ways. One that it's the right thing to do. And the others who really care about their party and say, wait a second, we're killing our party long-term if we're slapping in the face all these Latinos and Asians who are here, and we want to throw their mothers and brothers and their sisters away. We can't do that.

CAVANAUGH: You've represented the border region. You represent it now. You represented it in the California legislature, including the busiest board of entry at San Ysidro. Are House leaders tapping your expertise about the border at all?

VARGAS: I have been working quite a bit with leaders on both sides. But not so much as my expertise but because I do get along with everybody. And I'm trying to say let's compromise here. I'm someone that's well known to have positions on something, but at the same time getting something done. At the end of the day, we've got to get something done. We have to get out of our comfortable spaces. I do too. And let's get something done at the end of the day because we can't have failure again. Failure means we continue to have 800 people die trying to reunite with their families crossing the border. Thousands and thousands of families torn apart. Servicemen and women not being able to immigrate their spouses. It's a ridiculous situation. So I think that's why people are talking to me, and I've been able to work quite a bit with Republicans because of that.

CAVANAUGH: There's an effort in the house I hear to break apart pieces of this reform package if indeed the Senate does pass it later this week. To sort of make separate votes on the individual pieces of this reform package in the House. Would you support that idea?

VARGAS: Well, I don't think it's a good idea to break this thing up. I think it's the best idea to have it in a package form in one bill. However, it doesn't have to be that way. If their strategy is we can only vote for these things as a group, and we'll give you enough votes on this other part but you have to separate it, okay, let's do it that way. But if they're breaking it up to kill it, to kill the package, then that's a different thing. But at the moment, I think they're venting. They all want to vent and pound their chests and say we're tougher than the Senate. So they want to break up this package and pass things like that. I'm hopeful it's just the chest pounding and making noise and not that their leadership wants to kill the process. And I'm still hopeful. A lot of people have lost hope. I'm still hopeful we can do something.

CAVANAUGH: Some say with a broken up package like that, perhaps the only part of it that would pass would be this border surge.

VARGAS: No, I think that's -- that's a deal-killer. If the only thing they put forward is the surge, it's not going to go anywhere. The president won't sign off of on that. That goes nowhere. So for those people who really do want a border surge, although I don't think there's many, frankly. I think it's more a political ploy and event. But for those that do want that, that's not going to happen. That won't happen unless you have a comprehensive immigration package. You're not just going to get the surge.

CAVANAUGH: And do you see a vote on immigration reform happening in the house this summer?

VARGAS: If it's going to happen, it's going to happen this year. It has to happen this year because next year is an election year, and you get into silly season. And silly season, you can't pass a serious bill. But I'm still very hopeful that it will pass this year. I think we're probably going to get the Senate bill by the end of the week. And we'll probably pass it before the 4th of July, and we'll begin in the course of the months after that and hopefully by the end of the year.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you so much.

VARGAS: Pleasure to be on your show.

[ Live Studio ]

CAVANAUGH: Joining me now is doctor David Shirk, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of San Diego.

SHIRK: Thank you for having me.

CAVANAUGH: What's your interpretation of the Senate's vote on the border security amendment? Do you think it was strong enough to indicate the Senate will pass immigration reform?

SHIRK: Well, there was clearly a strong majority of senators in support of the amendment. And I think that's a good signal that the Senate really does have the votes to move forward and pass a bill. The question is whether this will make it through the House. Whether it's enough of an enticement for mainly the public that they want vote for it. And speaker Boehner has said he would not vote for anything that does not have majority support in the House.

CAVANAUGH: You heard Congressman Vargas quite critical of this amendment. In your -- from your expertise, from your point of view, will doubling the number of Border Patrol agents, adding 700 miles of fence, will that make the U.S./Mexico border secure?

SHIRK: Even the sponsor of this amendment, Senator Corker from Tennessee, said that this is overkill, that this is not necessarily something that is practical, but it is clearly intended to assuage any concerns that anyone might have that we're not doing enough to secure the border. My sense is that if you've got so many people trying to come into your house, that they start crawling through the windows, the solution is not to bar the windows. It's to figure out how to open up more doors. And what I think would be a more sensible approach would be to figure out how we can create enough legal pathways into this country that people don't want to walk through the desert, risk their lives, pay smugglers thousands of dollars and put themselves in harm's way to come clean our toilets, trim our hedges, and do the other hard work that so many immigrants do. Putting border security first here really puts the cart before the horse.

CAVANAUGH: There is a lot of people and anticipation. I know specifically here in San Diego surrounding immigration reform, if it were to pass, how do you think it might change things for immigrants here in San Diego?

SHIRK: If this bill passes and makes it through miraculously the House, what we'll see in the short-term, the next ten years is life will change very dramatically for undocumented immigrants. They'll be able to come out of the shadows. They will not have a chance to become citizens for another 13 years. But just having status has been a tremendous psychological and politically empowering right for the handful of people who have been made eligible in this house for deferred status through President Obama's deferred action. Talking to young people who have actually received DACA status as it's known. They feel like they've come out of the shadows and they can finally walk with their heads held high and really begin to make a contribution, a full contribution to our society and our communities.

CAVANAUGH: Having said that, do you think there is too much optimism surrounding this bill?

SHIRK: Well, I think that it's just been fascinating to watch the process. Because there really have been so many attempts to put poison pills into this bill or interest the overall comprehensive immigration reform effort. And I think it's very unconcern still what will happen in the House. Congressman Vargas talked about the long-term interests of the Republican party really being in finding a way to reach out to Latino voters. And yet the Republican party has not demonstrated the, in my view in the last few year, a strong interest in long-term self preservation or even long-term best interests of the country. This is a Congress. And let's put some of the blame on both sides. But is this a Congress that took us off the fiscal cliff. So how they're going to responsibly manage the immigration question and avoid us going off a demo graphic cliff where we have our population living in the shadows, I'm not entirely confident. I'm hopeful in the long-term we can resolve this issue, but this Congress never ceases to amaze me.

CAVANAUGH: 85% of respondents supported the elements of the pathway to citizenship in the immigration reform bill. Shouldn't that sort of overwhelming public support -- I know there are people who oppose this bill and oppose it stridently, but shouldn't that kind of support actually mean something in the United States Congress?

SHIRK: It should. It's important to note that depending on how you ask the question, you get different answers, and certainly you can ask the same question in another poll. You see the same question asked in different ways that emphasize border security, and there's a strong sentiment in the general population of more border security along with immigrant rights. So it's important to find the right balance that will be comfortable for the American people. But that said, there's no doubt that the vast majority of Americans recognize that we are a country of immigrants. Most of us came from some kind of immigrant background. Even if it's fairly distant in our own ancestry. We recognize that this is a land of opportunity, and there is no other country on the planet that is as generous or as dependent on immigrants coming in and helping to build us up. The question, and we've always questioned that notion, but we have always ultimately resolved it, brought new immigrants in, and found a way to integrate them and benefit from their presence.

CAVANAUGH: Harry Reid says we should expect a vote on this in the Senate later this week. So we shall see if this continues.

SHIRK: We'll find out.