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Cornyn Video on Border Deaths Stirs Controversy

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn has released a new video and an accompanying opinion piece describing the hundreds of migrants found dead every year near the Texas-Mexico border. But advocacy groups say Cornyn is part of the problem.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, decries Obamacare at a Capitol press conference on April 1, 2013.

In an effort to counter Democrats’ claims that the border is secure, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn has released a new video and an accompanying opinion piece describing the hundreds of migrants found dead every year near the Texas-Mexico border.

Set to somber music, the film shows Cornyn in a South Texas cemetery reading aluminum markers bearing the details — "unknown male," "skeletal remains" — of unidentified bodies.

“Each grave tells a story that ends in tragedy, and collectively they tell the story of a broken immigration system and a border that is still porous,” Cornyn wrote in the accompanying opinion piece, published by Fox News. “The notion that these people died for the chance to live and work amongst us is at once humbling and horrifying. As Americans, we have built a great country, but we have not built the immigration system necessary to serve it.”

But advocacy groups are lashing out against Cornyn, calling him an integral part of the years-long gridlock on immigration reform. The Reform Immigration for Texas Alliance, a statewide group that advocates for comprehensive immigration reform, slammed Cornyn for recently supporting Republican-backed amendments to the current reform proposal authored by the bipartisan group of U.S. senators knows as the “Gang of Eight.”

“RITA shares the senator’s concern over the crisis of migrant deaths. However, we demand that he do more than make YouTube videos and write pieces for Fox News,” Cristina Parker, a spokeswoman for the coalition, said in a statement Tuesday. “During the Senate Judiciary Committee Markup of Title I, the border enforcement section of the bill, Sen. Ted Cruz introduced an extreme amendment intended to kill the bill that called for tripling the size of Border Patrol and quadrupling border enforcement spending. Sen. John Cornyn voted with the tea party senator on this poison pill amendment.”

Cornyn’s office asserted that the senator isn’t alone in his assessment, and that people who live and work on the border share his concerns. 

“The local law enforcement and ranchers Sen. Cornyn met with during his trip to south Texas last week couldn’t have been clearer: the border is not secure and lives are needlessly lost because of it,” Cornyn spokesman Drew Brandewie said in an email. “Sen. Cornyn has repeatedly praised the efforts of the Gang of Eight, and he has laid out areas where he thinks the bill needs to be improved — border security being chief among those, which is why he offered an amendment to improve the bill.”

As the Senate’s Judiciary Committee last week began a weeks-long mark-up process on the Gang of Eight's bill, Cruz, the state's junior senator, filed amendments that would have required more fencing on the border and banned anyone who has ever been in the country illegally from earning citizenship. Before the mark-up began, Cornyn, with U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, also introduced legislation that would require the U.S. Border Patrol to gain operational control of the border before immigration reform could continue.

RITA said that Cornyn’s efforts in 2006 and 2007, when he rejected immigration reform bills championed by former President George W. Bush, helped sustain the current broken system. Since then, the group added, at least 2,500 migrants have died trying to cross the border.

Cornyn wrote in the opinion piece that he would continue to advocate for more resources on the border and reject compromises he feels threaten security or law and order.

“The basic challenge of immigration reform will be to reconcile our compassion as Americans to the fundamental importance of the rule of law, without yielding to either,” he wrote. “As a policymaker, I have a responsibility to find real solutions to these issues that are all-too-familiar to Texans. Anything less only perpetuates this grotesque human tragedy playing out every day on American soil.”

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