Enough protests and boycotts – it’s time for real immigration reform

Leslie Sanchez Author, Los Republicanos
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The “Day without Mexicans” occurred last week, but it went little-noticed. Intended to protest Arizona’s notorious new immigration law, the boycott called on Mexicans to abandon their jobs in such towns as Laredo, Texas, America’s largest inland port, and not to shop north of the border for one day.

On the same day, President Obama took two small steps forward on the immigration issue for the first time since he was elected in 2008: the deployment of an extra 1,200 National Guard troops to the Mexican border and a request for $500 million for border security.

The time for protest boycotts and additional troops is over, however. The time for Congressional action on immigration reform – including real border security measures, performed by highly trained local, state and federal law enforcement and Border Patrol officers – is long overdue, and the voters know it.

Public opinion remains split on the right approach to immigration reform and will continue to be if Congress remains frozen in a state of inaction. According to a recent national survey by Resurgent Republic, “43 percent of voters prefer a comprehensive bill with a path to citizenship, but 48 percent of voters prefer something short of that, with 24 percent preferring a bill that includes a temporary-worker program and 24 percent preferring a bill that focuses on border security first.”

The Arizona law is aimed at curbing the flow of illegal immigrants into the state. I and many others have criticized it, but it is a symptom, not the cause, of a larger problem created by Washington’s protracted failure to address the immigration problem. Since a bipartisan group of opponents managed to keep immigration reform from reaching the Senate floor in 2007, neither the Congress nor the Obama administration has been willing to step up to the plate and address the issue comprehensively. .Instead trivial political progress is made while toothless protests go unnoticed.

As an aide to the member of Congress who represented Laredo, I visited the massive warehouses there that make up the funnel on which U.S. trade with Mexico trade depends. I’ve seen the clockwork precision of the “just-in-time inventory” system that moves agricultural and manufactured goods, parts and equipment over the border at precisely the moment they’re needed – a system the boycott hoped to disrupt in a very public way.

The “Day Without Mexicans” went nowhere, the latest in a series of pointless reactions to the Arizona law and the larger problem of a broken immigration system, none of which have addressed the real problem, whose solution lies in Washington, not Laredo.

As for the President’s addition of 1,200 National Guardsmen, troops have been stationed along the U.S.-Mexican border since at least 1989. And in 2006, President George W. Bush deployed 6,000 National Guard troops in what he called “Operation Jump Start,” another attempt to secure the border.

In the 21 years they’ve been stationed there, the troops on the border have slowed crime and temporarily restricted the flood of illegal immigrants entering the United States, but in terms of a permanent, national solution to immigration, the deployments are as ineffective as the “Day Without Mexicans” boycott.

Asa Hutchinson, former Under Secretary for Border and Transportation Security at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, told me that he believes, “troops will be in a law enforcement support role which is helpful but not the best use of our troops. The long term solution is a combination of manpower and technology along the border along with an on line verification system that allows employers to check legal status before hiring.”

Voters have figured out that real far-sighted progress needs to be made. When will politicians?

Leslie Sanchez is author of Los Republicanos: Why Hispanics and Republicans Need Each Other and serves as a Board Member of Resurgent Republic.