Viewpoints: Cornyn’s border security plan respects Texas border, Mexico

It should come as no surprise that a U.S. senator from Texas would offer a border security plan that is far more measured, innovative and efficient than the monstrous wall proposed by President Donald Trump, which looms as a potential threat to the border region’s economic vitality.

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, who grew up in San Antonio but lives in Austin, rightly took the time to consult with those who stand to bear the biggest impact of a wall – residents, business and political leaders, border officials and others living along the state’s border with Mexico – to craft a multilayered plan that calls for $15 billion to boost border security and strengthen immigration enforcement. That kind of attention to border communities is why the plan has received a favorable reception from many leaders and law enforcement authorities in border regions.

By contrast, Trump, House Speaker Paul Ryan and other GOP leaders have engaged in drive-by diplomacy regarding the border, stopping long enough in South Texas for the photo op and chat with border officials and ranchers, but not long enough to understand the multiple, complicated issues that define life on the Texas-Mexico border – issues that can’t be narrowed to just illegal border crossings.

JUAN CASTILLO: Cornyn’s border plan less Trumpian, more Texas-friendly.

Building a wall might sound good as a campaign slogan. It might even slow illegal immigration; apprehensions on the southwest border have already been declining since 2008. But it doesn’t address visa overstays, the way an increasing number of immigrants go from legal to illegal status.

Consider the damaging ripples of a massive barrier along much of the 2,000-mile border: It would tread on private and state property rights; disrupt migration patterns of animals, including some that are endangered; scar environmentally sensitive parks and wildlife refuges; and, perhaps most importantly, upset the economic vitality of Texas border regions, from McAllen to El Paso.

Trump has talked little — if at all — about the political and economic ramifications of walling off the border in a manner that offends Mexico, the top trading partner with Texas. As relations between the United States and Mexico chill, commerce and tourism in Texas border regions also suffer.

By contrast, Cornyn has put together a proposal that emphasizes securing the border while being compatible with property rights, environmental features and business and commerce in the border region. It would accomplish those goals without compromising the long friendship and respect between Texas and Mexico.

Some of the bill’s highlights include:

• Multilayered infrastructure for the border, including walls, fencing, levees and technology to be determined by the Department of Homeland Security Secretary. But, and this is important, it “requires the DHS Secretary to consult with local stakeholders and deploy the most effective and practical means of achieving operational control – apprehension of illegal border crossers.” Surveillance would be enhanced to include all sectors of the border.

• More federal agents at ports of entry to target illegal immigration and drug trafficking, while facilitating more legal activities, such as trade and travel.

• More Border Patrol agents, customs and immigration officers, as well as more immigration judges and prosecutors.

• More resources for state and local law enforcement to fight drug trafficking.

COMMENTARY: Why the U.S. doesn’t need Canada’s immigration system.

Cornyn’s bill — Building America’s Trust Act — also ends “catch and release” of criminal immigrants who are undocumented, and it includes “Kate’s Law,” a crackdown on criminal repeat offenders who are in the country illegally, named for Kathryn Steinle, who was killed in San Francisco by a felon who had been deported multiple times.

We share concerns of civil rights groups over certain provisions in the bill, such as imposing penalties on federal funds for so-called sanctuary cities or counties that “fail to comply with lawful federal immigration enforcement requests.”

While generally applauding Cornyn’s bill, League of United Latin American Citizens national President Roger C. Rocha Jr. noted in a statement: “We must remember that national security and civil rights are not mutually exclusive and we must work to achieve both.

“Additionally, we must find ways to increase trust between immigrant communities and local law enforcement, instead of targeting sanctuary cities and creating an environment of fear.”

Austin and Travis County, labeled by Texas GOP leaders as “sanctuary” jurisdictions, have not been found to be in violation of state or federal law regarding their policies that discourage local officers from acting as immigration police.

But those policies are endangered by a new law passed earlier this year by the Texas Legislature that outlaws so-called sanctuary city policies beginning Sept. 1. Austin and other cities are challenging the constitutionality of the law. Ultimately, the courts will decide the legality of sanctuary city policies.

Nonetheless, that provision should not be a deal-breaker for Democrats, who must resist employing litmus tests but instead negotiate for a better outcome. For their part, Republicans also must abandon hyperpartisanship in addressing border security. There is too much at stake.

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Reforming the nation’s ailing immigration system has faded to the background of Washington politics, with no consensus to revive it because of looming border security concerns — some real and others politically drummed up.

A familiar refrain of the GOP has been that it would be reckless or dangerous to reform immigration policies until the southern border is secure and the government can control the flow of people entering the country and stem drug trafficking and human smuggling. That has resonated with many Americans who fear the border might serve as a susceptible entry point for terrorists.

Regarding border security and immigration reform, we can remain mired in the mud with Trump’s wall or grab hold of Cornyn’s border plan and move the country forward.

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