Friday, May 19, 2006

The Senate and the wall: What WERE they thinking?

Let's face facts. No one actually believes anymore that a wall is a viable answer to border security. That bubble burst with the sight of a Prada clad Anderson Cooper navigating his way through 2,400 feet of tunnel running from the Tijuana airport to a warehouse in San Diego. In the light of the hanging incandescent bulbs stung every few feet, the sight of the GQ anchorboy making his way under the nations premier border security wall, was enough to make even the most hardened xenophobe realize the futility in trying to seal the border with cement, iron, bricks and mortar. In fact Ms. Vanderbilt's son was making his way through only one of the 43 tunnels discovered under the US border in the past five years.

No matter how many times Tom Tancredo or JD Hayworth tout the virtues of wall building, or claim how successful the current walls have been at thwarting the invasion from the south, the American people are not that naïve, they know that a ten foot high wall only fosters increased sales of twelve foot ladders at Home Depots in Tijuana, Ciudad Juarez, Nuevo Laredo and Nogales.

So why this vote now?

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The Senate called Wednesday for at least 350 miles of new triple-layered fencing on porous sections of the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexican border to crack down on illegal immigration and smuggling.

The $1 billion proposal, approved by a vote of 83-16, is less extensive than a 700-mile fence proposed by the House of Representatives, but it puts both chambers of Congress in support of building expanded barriers across the southwestern border.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said that his amendment tracks a plan by the Department of Homeland Security to construct fences in areas frequently used by smugglers and illegal immigrants.

The department would determine the locations, but Sessions indicated that much of the fencing would be in Arizona and California and would be linked to a 20-mile fence already constructed near San Diego. The plan also calls for 500 miles of additional vehicle barriers.


It's all about the symbolism. It says numerous things on many different levels. It certainly says to our neighbors to the south that not only are they not welcome, but that we are willing to go to great lengths to assure that we can remain separated from them not only physically, but socially and economically.

But perhaps more importantly for those advancing the wall building agenda, they hope to send a message to their constituents and followers that they are tough on "border security". That they are working hard to "protect" them from whatever it is they fear is coming over the border on a daily basis, whether that be "terrorists", "Mexicans" who "steal their jobs", or just plain scary brown people.

Politically, it sends even another message. It says that the only way to deal with the "immigration issue" is to put up barriers, be they physical, legal or economic.

So in the end it really doesn't really matter if the wall or fence is 350, 700, 1000 or 2 miles long. The mere fact that a wall is being build gives the "enforcement only" advocates a moral and symbolic victory. It negates the idea that this "problem" must be solved comprehensively and that we must look beyond mere "border security." That we should search for a practical long term solution that not only deals with immigration going forward, but also the root causes of the migration or the need for workers to supplement a shrinking US workforce. In fact, it raises questions of whether we will remain a vibrant nation with a diverse ethnic and cultural mosaic, or retreat into xenophobic isolationism.

So with all this at stake, how is it that those in Washington who support a comprehensive approach to immigration reform were willing to surrender to such a monumental symbolic defeat on this issue?

Only the politically naïve would believe that as the Hagel-Martinez compromise moved through the Senate on it's way to reconciliation with the draconian House bill, it would remain pristine. It was inevitable that the right-wing within the Senate would start to chisel away at it in order to weaken it somewhat in advance for their House brethren. But why concede core principles this early on, leaving nothing for the Senate members of the Conference Committee to work with? In fact, all of the known members of that group with the exception of Kennedy (D-MA) voted in favor of the wall building amendment.

YEAs ---83
Alexander (R-TN)
Allard (R-CO)
Allen (R-VA)
Baucus (D-MT)
Bayh (D-IN)
Bennett (R-UT)
Biden (D-DE)
Bond (R-MO)
Boxer (D-CA)
Brownback (R-KS)
Bunning (R-KY)
Burns (R-MT)
Burr (R-NC)
Byrd (D-WV)
Carper (D-DE)
Chafee (R-RI)
Chambliss (R-GA)
Clinton (D-NY)
Coburn (R-OK)
Cochran (R-MS)
Coleman (R-MN)
Collins (R-ME)
Conrad (D-ND)
Cornyn (R-TX)
Craig (R-ID)
Crapo (R-ID)
Dayton (D-MN)
DeMint (R-SC)
DeWine (R-OH)
Dole (R-NC)
Domenici (R-NM)
Dorgan (D-ND)
Ensign (R-NV)
Enzi (R-WY)
Feinstein (D-CA)
Frist (R-TN)
Graham (R-SC)
Grassley (R-IA)
Gregg (R-NH)
Hagel (R-NE)
Harkin (D-IA)
Hatch (R-UT)
Hutchison (R-TX)
Inhofe (R-OK)
Isakson (R-GA)
Johnson (D-SD)
Kerry (D-MA)
Kohl (D-WI)
Kyl (R-AZ)
Landrieu (D-LA)
Leahy (D-VT)
Levin (D-MI)
Lincoln (D-AR)
Lott (R-MS)
Lugar (R-IN)
Martinez (R-FL)
McCain (R-AZ)
McConnell (R-KY)
Mikulski (D-MD)
Murkowski (R-AK)
Nelson (D-FL)
Nelson (D-NE)
Pryor (D-AR)
Reid (D-NV)
Roberts (R-KS)
Salazar (D-CO)
Santorum (R-PA)
Schumer (D-NY)
Sessions (R-AL)
Shelby (R-AL)
Smith (R-OR)
Snowe (R-ME)
Specter (R-PA)
Stabenow (D-MI)
Stevens (R-AK)
Sununu (R-NH)
Talent (R-MO)
Thomas (R-WY)
Thune (R-SD)
Vitter (R-LA)
Voinovich (R-OH)
Warner (R-VA)
Wyden (D-OR)

NAYs ---16
Akaka (D-HI)
Bingaman (D-NM)
Cantwell (D-WA)
Dodd (D-CT)
Durbin (D-IL)
Feingold (D-WI)
Inouye (D-HI)
Jeffords (I-VT)
Kennedy (D-MA)
Lautenberg (D-NJ)
Lieberman (D-CT)
Menendez (D-NJ)
Murray (D-WA)
Obama (D-IL)
Reed (D-RI)
Sarbanes (D-MD)

Not Voting - 1
Rockefeller (D-WV)


The only strategic rationale for a move like this would be if Reid, Frist, Specter, and the rest of the comprehensive reform coalition feel that if they give in on enough "small" concessions before going to the House they will leave Sensenbrenner and Tancredo with no real ammunition, forcing them to dig in and try to defend hardnosed positions that reek of racism and xenophobia, such as opposition to a path to legalization for the twelve million. Perhaps Reid and the boys believe that having Tancredo on the nightly news trying to sell his "attrition" plan to the American people would be a non-starter for xenophobe zoo crew from the House, and in the end the main provisions of the Senate bill would pass through the House gauntlet intact. If this is in fact the strategy, it seems risky at best and downright foolish at worst.

Having now yielded the high ground in this debate, and given into the concept of "enforcement" as a solution, Reid and the compromise gang have opened a window of opportunity that has the potential to leave them snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Although leaving the sour taste of disingenuous political pandering in my mouth, Bush's Monday primetime immigration pallooza appears to have played well in the heartland. Polls that had already shown strong support for a comprehensive approach to immigration reform rose even more after his speech. Before this vote it looked as if Team Tancredo were starting to lose serious ground.

Now Reid's Compromise Crew have given the xenophobe wing a huge symbolic victory with this vote. As Bush poses for his photo-ops this week with Border Patrol officers and National Guardsmen against a backdrop of a steel and concrete wall, a message will be sent that will warm the hearts at the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus … they have moved that much closer to achieving their goal.


janinsanfran said...

And that xenophobic symbolic victory was before they added "English as national language."

I said in December that professional immigration advocates were giving away the store by supporting Kennedy-McCain because that gave them too little platform to trade down from. This process is proving that in spades. Advocates including labor should be screaming for open borders and then start the compromise process.

Duke Reed said...

You're right on the money with that analysis Jan. It's been like going to a car lot, laying all you cash on the table, then asking what kind of deal you can get.

Since this thing got to the Judiciary it's been getting chipped away at bit by bit. When the Senate's done with it, God only knows what will be left. Then Sensenbrenner gets to rip it apart. In the end all that will be left is Bush'e guest worker, a wall, and criminalization.

They've definately given away far to much in the name of compromise.

Anonymous said...

The only thing this is accomplishing is to show lots of political posturing to act as if Congress is really doing something about immigration...and the only thing I see that it has done is to give away more tax payer dollars to big corporations for border security that will accomplish nothing really. As long as the real underlying problems such as NAFTA aren't addressed, fair wages and big business wanting cheap/slave labor any bill passed is window dressing.

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