Broken borders, Broken system

A multi-part series of editorials and columns regarding the issue of immigration reform.

When a surge of Central Americans descended on the Rio Grande Valley to cross into this country illegally in the summer of 2014, the cries to ‘Seal our border,’ and ‘Reform immigration’ reverberated across the country. The Monitor quickly determined that, beyond the rhetoric, many of those screaming the loudest had few specific policy recommendations to fix the problem. The Monitor editorial board began talking to law enforcement, policymakers, human rights activists, local readers and the immigrants themselves in search of answers. This series represents the culmination of at least six months of research and interviews with scores of people. It is presented on these pages in the hopes of spurring discourse about one of the most significant public policy debates to visit our country and our region in decades.

EDITORIAL: Money for more US immigration judges is smart

With so much division and distrust in Washington, D.C., regarding ways to fix U.S. immigration policy, actual action by lawmakers has been slim to none. But one local congressman, at least, continues to push legislation that appears to be making some difference and is actually getting passed.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat from Laredo whose district includes parts of Hidalgo County, has since fiscal 2016 managed to get money appropriated for the hiring of additional U.S. immigration judges.

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COMMENTARY: This is the Rio Grande Valley that I know and love

We don’t live in a warzone.

You may have seen the latest report of the Department of Interior dispatching its Park Police and National Park Service law enforcement officers to “secure the U.S.-Mexico border.” To an outside observer, it sure looks like the Texas/Mexico border, including the Rio Grande Valley, is a warzone. To those of us who live here, it’s our home.

The recent rhetoric and policies from the federal government targeting the borderlands certainly create an image of lawlessness and rampant violent crime. Anyone who has lived here for a while will tell you that we live our lives like most people around the country, with the good, the bad and the ugly.

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EDITORIAL: The US has ‘zero tolerance’ for others now

So it appears to have come down to this. In an effort to appease the Trump administration’s base, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is apparently changing immigration law, on his own, and has announced “100 percent” criminal prosecution of anyone who crosses the U.S. border illegally.

Those who cross with their children will be separated from them, and it’s unclear where the children will be sent.

Called “zero tolerance,” Sessions said at a news conference in San Diego on Monday this stricter law enforcement is needed because “we need legality and integrity in our immigration system.”

Yes we do. And we believe that it is up to Congress to write those laws. So we question whether Sessions actions are legal?

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Q&A with Beto O’Rourke: America must ‘listen and respect border communities’

EDITOR’S NOTE: U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat from El Paso, hopes to unseat Republican Senator Ted Cruz in March. The Monitor does not endorse candidates, but O’Rourke asked for a sit down with our Editorial Board when he was in the Rio Grande Valley on Wednesday, a day after he challenged Cruz to several debates, including two in Spanish. Here are excerpts from our conversation. We also extend an invitation to Sen. Cruz and hope to meet with him prior to the election and to also print his thoughts.

Q: Should we do this discussion in Spanish?

A: Podemos hacerlos si! (Yes, we can do this.)

Q: Just kidding. Has Sen. Cruz responded to your request to debate in Spanish?

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EDITORIAL: Teaching immigrants about US court system is wise

It’s nice (and surprising) when politicians listen to us (or so we like to think.)

But whether he did, or not, we are glad that Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently reversed a decision to end a valuable immigration court outreach program for immigrants, one that we called on Sessions to continue.

Sessions last week told a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that although he still had some concerns about the Legal Orientation Program (LOP) — which helps to educate immigrants on the U.S. immigration court system and helps them to better prepare for their court cases — he has ordered the program to continue, at least for now, while they study its effectiveness. He said part of the reason for his change of heart occurred after several senators last month expressed concerns about shutting it down.

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EDITORIAL: Revamp US immigration courts ASAP; 680,000 case backlog, judge quotas no e-filing is unacceptable

A joke was made during a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on U.S. immigration courts held last week in Washington, D.C., that compared the Executive Office for Immigration Review (which oversees our federal immigration courts and is often referred to by its acronym EOIR,) to “Eeyore,” the slow, pessimistic, gloomy and stubborn donkey character in Winnie-the-Pooh. And given what was learned in that hearing about how slow this agency is in filling immigration judge positions, backwards in its technology and lacks in its agency goals, we think the reference fits.

It’s really not funny because with a nationwide backlog of 680,000 immigration cases, and the average wait time for a case to have its day in court 884 days in Texas (and 1,000 days in Colorado,) there is no wonder that we have an immigration crisis in this country. There is no wonder that upwards of 7,000 immigrants every year fail to appear for their court cases, as EOIR Director James McHenry III told senators.

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EDITORIAL: A ‘force multiplier’ for border agents

When Gov. Greg Abbott toured the National Guard Armory in Weslaco last week and met with hundreds of Texas National Guard troops deployed to the Rio Grande Valley, he made a point to tell the media afterward that “the morale of the troops is very high.”

He said this proactively — not in response to a question. That leads us to believe that his administration remembers well, and hopefully wants to avoid, the low morale suffered by National Guard troops and the criticisms about how they were utilized when they first were dispatched in 2014 to guard the border following an uptick in illegal immigration.

Gov. Abbott said these new troops will not participate in arrests or chases of immigrants, but he stressed that they are a necessary “force multiplier.” And they are “awaiting final instructions from Homeland Security and the Department of Defense,” on what exactly the National Guard will do here this time around.

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