In Washington, lawmakers are arguing that the U.S.-Mexico border needs more protection. Out in the Southwest, people aren't so sure.
Following Monday's proposal for immigration reform from a bipartisan Senate "gang of eight" -- one of several plans that Congress may review in the coming months -- we asked HuffPost readers in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and southern California what kind of reforms they think are needed, and what legislators on Capitol Hill need to consider going forward.
"THERE ARE NO JOBS HERE"
Many readers told us that they disagreed with the senators' assertion that the southern border needs to be more heavily guarded. The Senate plan calls for additional border agents and additional surveillance drones -- something that struck a number of our readers as misguided.
A recurring theme in the reader letters, especially from the Tucson, Ariz. area, was that given the bruised state of the U.S. economy in recent years, America isn't quite as attractive to immigrants as it used to be. Lois Miller, a reader in Tucson, wrote to say:
Illegal immigration hardly seems to be a problem. At least three neighbors from Mexico have moved back because of the bad economy here. I miss them because they were good neighbors. The rest of Tucson seems similarly afflicted.
Another Tucson reader echoed these thoughts:
I live in Tucson and there have been articles about how bored the border agents are. It's a statistical fact that the number of people coming in has dropped significantly and thousands have self-deported. There are no jobs here. When I go through the checkpoints, there are usually about 15-20 agents sitting on their thumbs while one checks cars and asks "Where you are from?" Everybody knows where the checkpoints are, so why bother?
Many -- and I mean many -- border agents have been busted for helping the smugglers. [Ed. note -- More info here.] So to me the whole thing is just a waste of money. They are fighting a battle from 2008 -- reality has changed in 2013, and they can't see it.
A third reader in Tucson agreed:
Frankly, the idea that "illegals" were flooding across the border was a lie to start with, and it has been the opposite since the economic downturn [...] Those who watch Fox News have no clue that most Texans, New Mexicans, Arizonans and Californians are NOT having to duck and cover from cartel tactics every day!
Yes, there are 11 million "illegals" here today. Yes, most of them have been paying taxes of various sorts for all that time -- road taxes, rent taxes, utility taxes, grocery and other sales taxes -- yet getting neither benefit nor representation for their hard work and paid taxes. The vast majority are law-abiding, constructive citizens who raise American-born children, and young children brought over at a young age who have never known any other life but to be here, to be Americans, with the drive to work hard and succeed and do well for their own families. Massive immigration reform is only now becoming a buzzword for the Republicans not because it's the right thing to do, but because they're losing elections.
And a fourth Tucson reader told us:
If you drive some of the roads near the border with Nogales, the only traffic you will see are U.S. Customs and Border Protection vehicles with horses, ATV's and motorcycles. I don't know how many agents are employed by the U.S. government; but we don't need any more to secure the border. The whole thing reminds me of playing "cops and robbers" when we were kids.
But Tucson wasn't the only place where people said the border is already strong enough. Drew Kroft, a reader in San Diego, told us:
As usual, lawmakers from elsewhere in the country want to solve our problems -- protecting "us" from their perceived, imagined threats.
We are fine. The majority of people here illegally are working hard, studying, living peaceful lives and contributing to their adopted communities.
A reader from Las Cruces, New Mexico wrote to say:
I have to tell you that the problems from "illegal immigration" are almost nonexistent here. We do have a crime rate that seems to be dominated by individuals with Latino last names, but it is not out of balance with the fact that the majority of people living here have Latino last names. There is a border check outside Las Cruces on Interstate 10, heading west, and one heading east on Route 70. We have a facility in town for holding undocumented immigrants until they can be taken back to the border on a bus -- again, they are barely noticeable. One problem we do have, directly as the result of stepped up monitoring of the border (mostly by drones), is that in the planting and harvesting seasons it has become difficult to find enough workers to get the job done.
And a reader from San Antonio told us:
I do not believe there is a need for drones, walls, fences, etc, along Texas [...] People in El Paso, San Antonio, Corpus Christi, and South Texas are not angry about immigration or those who come here seeking work. We would prefer that there are more legitimate opportunities for them, precisely "to bring them out of the shadows" because, for the most part, we have come to know them as hardworking people who try very hard to do a good job. If I sound idealistic and in denial, I can only say that I do not deny the presence of "illegal" workers and families in El Paso, San Antonio and South Texas. I simply say that we do not go out of our way to make an issue out of it, and they are not taking away anyone else's jobs.
"THREATS ON A DAILY BASIS"
Not everyone who wrote to us was blase about the need for more security. We heard from a few readers who said that putting better safeguards at the border was a pressing matter of public safety. Roxanne Ziegler of Tucson told us:
What is needed at the border is the National Guard with real guns and real bullets. I like the idea of unmanned drones. That would be helpful. And more agents is also a good move, but they need the flexibility to use force when needed. Their hands cannot be tied by a huge list of rules of engagement.
The Constitution states that the American people should be protected from foreign threats. In the state of Arizona, we have threats on a daily basis: threats to our land, our people, and our animals; the raping of the beautiful desert; threats to our schools with the drugs that come over every day; and the drain on our hospitals with sick and injured illegal people.
A reader in Santee, Calif. told us that the quality of life in some parts of nearby San Diego has dropped considerably:
Every day the headlines are filled with news stories about illegal aliens shooting each other, robbing the stores in their own neighborhoods, plowing over each other in cars. There are entire neighborhoods in San Diego that NO ONE goes to because it's all illegal aliens and dangerous as heck. Shootings, stabbings, rapes, gangs, the list goes on and on.
And a reader from San Antonio wrote to say:
I have been in San Antonio for 4 years now. There is not enough manpower at the border. In small towns near the border, people are afraid of those who come across, and they are afraid to go out in the evening. Vehicles are stolen, items are stolen, and many people are afraid for their lives.
Jim Hill, a reader from San Diego, offered the following thoughts on where immigration policy can go from here.
Let’s be vigilant about stopping terrorists and arms smugglers (who traffic in both directions), and not be over-vigilant about stopping friends and families from transiting and visiting each country. We have given way too much attention to the drug wars, including border protection to stop drug traffickers. The expensive drug war should come to a screeching halt. It hasn't worked and won't work as long as we have drug consumers in this country.
Our current border gates are too few and too slow. We are expanding our border gates in San Diego -- but not fast enough, and still not enough to accommodate the needs of those who are entitled to cross. Waits of three and four hours to re-enter the U.S. from Mexico are not uncommon, particularly on weekends. Such waits are unacceptable and should not be tolerated any longer. They are bad for the economy and they are bad for relations with our southern neighbor.
One idea that we could explore further to fund swift passage would be toll-funded border gates (say, at a cost of $5 or $10 per passenger, or $20 per car if multi-passengers), which likely would have a swift line and would also pay for the gates and border guards. Right now, we have Sentri pass entryways, but those are only available for those who pass frequently enough to go through the process of getting a Sentri pass, and soon enough when more and more of us get the Sentri passes, the lines at the Sentri gates will be as long as those at the regular border.
We live in an area that was once Mexico. We need to do what we can to re-unite families and to recognize the cultural diversity of our region. The more we can open our borders, and the more we can allow legal immigration by changing our policies to welcome as new citizens those who have families here as well as in Mexico, the better.
Some letters have been edited for length and clarity.