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Saturday was an historic day in Anthony, New Mexico. More than 1,000 people gathered at a church to hear from two Congressmen – a Democrat and a Republican – about how to make the border a safer place for migrants who travel through and people who live there. It was the 15th anniversary assembly of the Border Network for Human Rights, who through that many years of organizing in border communities, has built the power that led to this day and the introduction of a new bill on border accountability and community engagement slated for later this month.
It’s worth noting that the gather took place a week after Republicans released their immigration reform principles and two days after House Speaker John Boehner declared Republicans couldn’t move forward on reform because of lack of trust in President Obama. If only Speaker Boehner and some of the Republican doubters in his ranks could have been in the church in Anthony, New Mexico, they would have seen something extraordinary – a conservative Republican, Rep. Steve Pearce from Southern New Mexico, getting a standing ovation as he walked into a room of 1,000 Latino families, many Spanish dominant. He was delayed leaving because the line to pose for photos with him kept growing. Young girls were even asking for photos with his staff members.
Let this be a lesson to Republicans who seem to be calculating that listening to the needs of Latino voters can wait another year, or isn’t as important as energizing their base before November, but the risk they are taking could be huge for members in districts like Pearce’s. And as soon as their presidential primary kicks off next year, the risk, well, let’s just say it isn’t going down.
So, props to Rep. Beto O’Rourke and Rep. Steve Pearce. What they’re preparing to introduce is a bill that would create new training for border patrol, revise “use of force” guidelines for the agency, create an ombudsman and an accountability task force. None of these things in themselves will dismantle the militarization of the border that has been building over many years, but it is a critical first step in giving border communities more of a say in how the federal government operates in the place where they live. And it will begin a much needed change to the frantic conversation from “how much” border security to “what kind of” border security.
After spending the week in Washington and hearing one lame excuse after another from Republicans on the immigration issue, I’ve got to hand it to both Steve Pearce and Beto O’Rourke. I overheard Rep. Pearce say that he trusts O’Rourke and O’Rourke trusts him, so they decided to charge ahead with a bill that would help their region and stop waiting on Washington. I couldn’t agree more. But as I hope to see Washington embrace this new bill, I hope just as much that Pearce and O’Rourke will channel some of the energy from Saturday’s momentous gathering to push Republicans in Washington to set aside their excuses and pass immigration reform with this responsible, new border language included.