Congressional Hispanics Have Not Endorsed Border Surge

After the sudden resignation of one of its members, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on Wednesday reiterated that it has not endorsed a controversial provision of the U.S. Senate-backed immigration bill that calls for more fencing and boots on the border.

U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, tendered his resignation from the caucus on Tuesday in response to what he said was the group’s support for S. 744, the upper chamber’s comprehensive immigration reform bill.

The measure passed last week after the Senate adopted the Corker-Hoeven amendment, by Republican Sens. John Hoeven of North Dakota and Bob Corker of Tennessee, which calls for 700 miles of fencing on the Southwest border and an additional 20,000 U.S. Border Patrol agents before the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country can obtain legal and permanent residency status. Also known as obtaining a “green card,” permanent residency is an essential step for immigrants seeking naturalized citizenship.

“The Senate bill perpetuates an environment of fear and separation, and as one of our greatest presidents said, that is the only thing we have to fear,” Vela, a freshman lawmaker, said in a statement on Wednesday. “I will not compromise my commitment to my border constituents for reasons of expedience.  Thus, on this issue, I could not remain silent as members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus endorsed the Senate-passed bill.”

Not so fast, said the remaining 26 members of the CHC.

“We are pleased with the progress the Senate has made on this important issue; we have not endorsed the Corker-Hoeven, the border surge amendment passed in The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act,” said caucus chairman, U.S. Rep. Ruben Hinojosa, D-Edinburg.

The caucus did not respond to Vela’s resignation specifically but said instead that it would continue to work with members of the House to craft a passable bill. It’s unclear how much discussion members of the caucus had after the bill was passed on Thursday; Congress recessed for the Fourth of July holiday last week without the caucus holding its regular formal meeting.

It is also unclear how much sway, if any, the caucus will have in a Republican-controlled lower chamber. After the Senate passed its version of the bill, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said any immigration bill passed would need support from the majority of the House Republicans. And border hawks in the House have repeatedly labeled the Senate version as amnesty for lawbreakers who circumvented the country’s legal immigration process.

Vela’s resignation was not unexpected. Last week, he joined border congressmen Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, and Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, in speaking out against the border-fence provisions in the bill. In a joint statement, they said more fencing would do nothing to stem the real catalysts of illegal migration, which include the record-setting violence in Mexico following a seven-year-old war on organized crime and fighting among the cartels.

Cuellar has not addressed his colleague’s resignation but on Wednesday, O’Rourke, who is not a member of the CHC, remained steadfast in his opposition to the border fence, calling it a misguided waste of money.

“Fencing and walls are bad policy. They waste billions of taxpayer dollars and do almost nothing to achieve the goals of reducing illegal immigration and smuggling,” he said in a statement. “With a record number of deportations and record-low apprehensions last year and a doubling of Border Patrol agents since 9/11, our border is more secure than it has ever been.”

Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.