Good Evening
Good Evening

Navarrette: We need immigration reform, but that's not what we're getting

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., left, and Sen. Charles

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., left, and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., right, two of the authors of the immigration reform bill crafted by the Senate's bipartisan "Gang of Eight," shake hands on Capitol Hill in Washington prior to the final vote. (June 27, 2013) Credit: AP

SAN DIEGO - Those who want to fix the immigration system have worked on it for 12 years. The 501(c)3 organizations that make up what is known as the "Immigration Reform Industrial Complex" spent millions bashing Republicans. Hundreds of thousands of people marched in U.S. cities. Advocates wrote letters, signed petitions, called members of Congress, dialed into talk radio shows, and appeared on cable television. Eight senators from both parties forged a compromise. The Senate spent three months making sausage.

And in the end, all we got was this lousy bill.

Thanks to the "border surge" amendment sponsored by Republican Sens. Bob Corker and John Hoeven, what we got was a bill that will do some good for about half of the 11 million illegal immigrants currently in the United States. According to policy analysts, only about 6 million are likely to qualify for legal status, be able to afford the fees, clear background checks or stick around long enough to reap a benefit.

All this comes at a high price. The bill will do a lot of harm to U.S.-Mexico relations by treating a neighbor as an aggressor, and probably endanger the lives of people along the U.S.-Mexico border, both U.S. residents and immigrants who might try to enter the United States illegally in the years to come. The danger comes from the fact that there will be a lot more Border Patrol agents policing the southern border, which could increase the chances that altercations will turn violent.

As amended, the Senate bill specializes in division. It splits Republicans between those who want to make amends with Hispanics and those who think Hispanics are a lost cause for the GOP.

But the bill also splits the immigration reform coalition. It divides Mexican immigrants with a stake in the outcome from self-righteous Mexican-Americans who are comfortable taking risks with legislation that doesn't impact them as much as it does other people. It divides DREAMers, who are a lock to get legal status, from their parents, most of whom won't get a thing. It divides those who want good policy from those who will accept crumbs and call it a feast. It divides Mexican immigrants who are already in the United States and don't have to worry about the human collateral that comes from militarizing the border from those who are still stuck in Mexico and whose route into the United States is about to get much more dangerous.

Finally, there is the big split -- between those immigration reformers who want to go all in on this bill, and those who want to throw in their cards, walk away from the table and look for another game down the road.

Count me as one of those who are close to walking away.

This is what happens when lawmakers go out of their comfort zones. Corker hails from Tennessee and Hoeven is from North Dakota. Neither one lives anywhere near the U.S.-Mexico border.

And their knowledge of the region is an enchilada short of a combination plate. If you don't understand the border, you can't secure it. All you can do is make a bad situation worse.

Corker and Hoeven propose completing 700 miles of border fence, a minor hindrance that a desperate and determined soul will not hesitate to go under, over or around to feed his family. Their amendment also gives the Border Patrol exactly what the agency has said it doesn't want: more personnel to train and manage.

Corker-Hoeven would double the size of the Border Patrol from 20,000 to 40,000 -- or about more than three times the manpower of the FBI. At least half of this army will be on the U.S.-Mexico border. Many of those "green shirts" will come from around the country and they'll be just as illiterate concerning the cultural nuances on the border as the senators who provided the funding to hire them.

It's likely there will be blood. A report by the National Foundation for American Policy found that deaths along the U.S.-Mexico border had increased 27 percent from 2011 to 2012.

During the Obama administration, Border Patrol agents have been criticized for excessive use of force. One casualty was Anastasio Hernandez Rojas, who died in 2010 after being beaten and stunned with a Taser gun by a swarm of Border Patrol agents south of San Diego. There are more horror stories on the way.

The country needs immigration reform. This isn't it.