By Susan Dunlap
U.S. Rep. Gabe Vasquez announced his new package of border legislation on Nov. 2 in front of the U.S. Congress in Washington D.C. flanked by three immigrants who live in New México.
Vasquez, a Democrat representing the state’s 2nd Congressional District, announced his legislative package, consisting of five bills, last week standing outside the Santa Teresa Port of Entry. He spoke of witnessing new noninvasive technology that he says will improve border security and impact the amount of fentanyl smuggled into the U.S.
He said during last Thursday’s press conference that if Republicans are serious about border security and the illegal transport of illicit drugs into the U.S., they should support his legislation. He said the new technology will be available at all ports of entry within a few months and said it will be a “game changer.”
The bill connected with border security, called the Smart Border Protection Act, will allocate $500 million to the Department of Homeland Security to hire more U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel and improve border screening technology. It will also allocate $70 million to the Administrator of General Services for border infrastructure.
This bill could provide a viable path for people who sacrifice everything for us.
Another bill is called the Stop Coyotes Act, which will, if enacted, mandate a 10-year penalty on human trafficking crimes involving a minor. The Humane Accountability Act would require the government to report on instances of assault, sexual assault and abuse that takes place in U.S. government immigrant detention centers. It would also require the U.S. government to report on complaints filed by detainees held in custody.
The Bipartisan Farm Workforce Support Act is also part of the package but Vasquez introduced it last spring. It calls on the Government Accountability Office to report to Congress on the deficiencies in the H-2A visa program, which is the program that allows migrant farm workers to cross the border to work in the fields. He said he spoke with Deming farmers who told him their onions are rotting in the field because they have no one to pick them. Vasquez said chile farmers have told him they have had to reduce the size of their crops because they also lack farmworkers.
The fifth bill will be the Strengthening Our Workforce Act, which will, if enacted, create a two-year temporary visa for immigrants who come to the U.S. and work in critical industries, defined by Vasquez as education, healthcare, energy production and emergency response.
Three immigrants also spoke, through a translator, during the Thursday press conference and they each expressed support for Vasquez and his border legislation, with a particular focus on the Strengthening Our Workforce bill. José Félix Alexis Rodríguez Vela, an energy worker, said that he has lived in the U.S. for 20 years and that he works in a dangerous industry.
He noted that during the pandemic, undocumented migrants could not access health insurance or unemployment insurance and he said “getting sick is not an option for someone like me.”
According to Somos Un Pueblo Unido, an immigrant advocacy group, one in every eight New México workers, or about 13 percent of the state’s labor force, is an immigrant. Somos Un Pueblo Unido, said through a news release that many oil and gas workers are undocumented and lack basic workplace protections or unemployment and social security benefits.
María de Jesús “Marichuy” Gallardo, a home healthcare aid, said she has been in the U.S. for 20 years and that she takes pride in helping people who need her live in dignity.
“I want to contribute to society without fear and have a path with citizenship. We want our voices to be heard and our contributions recognized,” she said.
Somos Un Pueblo Unido stated that between 2018 and 2028, the United States will need over 4.4 million home health caregivers.
Jesús Gallardo, a farm worker, said he has been in the U.S. for 40 years and that the pandemic devastated communities along the border. He said he petitioned for his brother to come to the U.S. 25 years ago, but his brother has not been able to migrate to the U.S.
Gallardo said that during the pandemic, undocumented workers “had to make difficult decisions whether to put food on the table or pay the bills.”
“This bill could provide a viable path for people who sacrifice everything for us,” he said.
Vasquez said that in this era, “Congress is clearly broken” and that it is “increasingly difficult to have comprehensive immigration reform.”
“But I wanted to do something meaningful for my country and my district and accomplish small pieces of the challenges we face in immigration,” he said.
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