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  HOME | Opinion (Click here for more)

Peña: More Money for Border Fences, but Immigration Reform Must Wait

By Maria Peña

WASHINGTON – The White House’s budget request for the Department of Homeland Security for Fiscal Year 2011 contains more funds to strengthen frontier monitoring with barriers, police and weapons, while immigration reform continues to be absent from the budgetary agenda.

Adding the discretionary and obligatory spending, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano requested a total of $56.3 billion, an increase of 2 percent from last year.

Her objective, as she explained on Monday, is to have the resources necessary to protect the United States from any threat but, at a time of large deficits, to do that with “efficiency and fiscal discipline.”

But a glance at some of the main components of the budget request reflects an emphasis on the continuity of police measures against illegal immigration and the effort to fight narco-violence along the southern border.

In fact, the budget – which in any case has to go through dissection and discussion in Congress – includes funds to hire more Border Patrol agents and to strengthen the efforts of the Coast Guard, among other services.

Napolitano was rather clear, saying that “we will continue to strengthen enforcement activities while targeting criminal aliens who pose a threat to public safety and employees who knowingly violate the law.”

The Homeland Security Department also has requested $137 million for the electronic E-Verify program, via which businesses can verify the immigration status of their new employees.

The budget also requests more than $1.6 billion to continue the identification and deportation programs for undocumented foreigners with criminal records, a $200 million increase over what was provided during the last Fiscal Year.

It also allocates $4.6 billion to strengthen the efforts of the 20,000 Border Patrol agents and to complete the first stretch of the “virtual fence” along the southern border with high technology equipment.

Missing from the budget request, and from the political agenda in Washington, is a tangible plan to bring the 12 million undocumented immigrants – most of them coming from Mexico and other Latin American countries – out of the shadows.

Last week, the Democratic majority leader in the House of Representatives, Rep. Steny Hoyer, spoke extensively about the priorities of his party for this year, but he made no mention at all of immigration reform.

The administration of President Barack Obama insists that immigration reform continues to be among its priorities, but in practice the situation appears to be an abundance of sticks and a scarcity of carrots regarding illegal immigration.

Although there is a de facto moratorium on workplace raids, it is undeniable that police activities – like deportations – have had an effect in Hispanic households, above all among children born in the United States to undocumented parents.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), who in December presented a bill on comprehensive immigration reform, made a call for a new round of nationwide demonstrations for March 21 to demand movement on reform.

Gutierrez said that the inaction of Congress and the scanty mention of immigration reform during Obama’s State of the Union speech – he dealt with the issue in just 36 words – have begun to get the immigrant community, which overwhelmingly voted for Obama in 2008, fed up.

“People are angry and disillusioned,” Gutierrez told the Los Angeles Times.

Other activists are also echoing the growing frustration with the emphasis on fences, police and weaponry, while barely any attention is being paid to the need to fix the broken immigration system.

On March 21, however, if all goes according to plan, the Hispanic community will take off their blindfolds and remind Obama where they stand. EFE

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