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Conundrums, Omissions, and Obstructions: The Immigration Debate with Sen. John Cornyn

February 02, 2011 - Posted by Ali Noorani


Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) posits in his recent Op-Ed for the San Antonio Express-News that President Obama is guilty by “omission [of a] credible commitment to border security and immigration reform.” Even as he points to the President’s State of the Union remarks on immigration as evidence that the President isn’t serious about border security or reform, he asks the people of Texas to look to the President’s actions, instead of his words.

Herein lies the Cornyn immigration conundrum:  which position is it? Is it what gets said, or doesn’t get said?  Is it what is voted for, or voted against?  Is it immigration reform process or product? 


The astrophysicist Carl Sagan once said “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Senator Cornyn, like many of his peers, has made a career out of extraordinary claims about the state of immigration and border security in our country and the proper response. These extraordinary claims distort the facts and diminish the debate.  Senator Cornyn needs to play it straight if he is serious about a comprehensive solution.

Senator Cornyn wrote in his Op-ed, “Border violence is unacceptably high. Rivalries among drug cartels have claimed more than 30,000 lives in Mexico during recent years.” [emphasis added]


Violence on the Texas side of the border exists, but is it unacceptably high? Is it even on the border?  El Paso, which sits across the Rio Grande from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, was just named the safest city of its size in the United States.  ABC News analyzed crime and crossing data in 2010 and found that both violence in U.S. border communities and the flow of migrants illegally crossing the border is declining.  And Politifact found that claims by congressional members citing a high number of border deaths often omit evidence about when and where deaths occurred: in Mexico and over a period of at least 6 years.  Whoops.

Senator Cornyn also wrote, “Texans in the Rio Grande Valley can attest that many individuals crossing the border come from much farther away than Mexico. In the last fiscal year, U.S. Customs and Border Protection saw an increase in apprehensions of illegal immigrants from Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran, Syria, and Yemen.”


It is true that Mexicans are not alone in illegally entering the U.S. through the southern border. But these immigrants are largely from Central American countries like Guatemala, Honduras or El Salvador. The Senator’s statement regarding FY10 apprehensions of illegal immigrants from Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran, Syria, and Yemen, implies that they came across the southern border. However, evidence shows that apprehensions overall have plummeted to a low not seen since 1972 and that undocumented immigrants from these countries are more likely to enter through our ports of entry, not between them.


Side note: We agree with Senator Cornyn that border ports of entry need to be enhanced.  The National Immigration Forum is in support of smart security measures that actually address a problem.


Immigration reform is indeed, and as Senator Cornyn put it, “a federal responsibility and a national imperative.”


But we’ve seen time and time again, how the Senator and other members of the Texas congressional delegation, such as Representative Lamar Smith and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, have by obstruction of federal action encouraged state legislatures to take immigration into their own hands. By committing themselves to obstructionism rather than working on bipartisan solutions, Cornyn, Hutchison and Smith have encouraged the growing patchwork of state laws that are harming local economies and communities.


It is always commendable when our elected leaders talk about committing themselves to the issues of our times, and even more so when those words are backed with action. The President, much to our chagrin, has gone beyond the pale in terms of deporting immigrants.  And it is clear Secretary Napolitano is pouring any and all available resources into border security.

But last Congress the President fought for the DREAM Act, while Senator Cornyn stood in the way.  Then Senator Cornyn went to the Hispanic Leadership Network and performed a “rhetorical pirouette” trying to explain his vote.


So, yes, the President needs to lead.  But Senator Cornyn cannot have it both ways.  Either he puts a concrete, practical solution on the table to end illegal immigration, or he comes clean that he is not committed to immigration reform.  The citizens of Texas will be watching for evidence.





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