If you ask almost anyone in south Texas whether the immigration debate in Washington is having an effect on their daily life, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone to tell you ‘no.’
In the last few years, the number of immigrants who are being caught crossing into the country illegally has spiked in Texas.
In the Rio Grande sector, the number of apprehensions from January to May 2012 was 60,585. By May of this year, U.S. Border Patrol has apprehended 93,922 immigrants.
From ranchers to police, most will say the mere discussion of a “path to citizenship” for the country’s 11 million immigrants who entered the country illegally has sparked a rapid influx of immigrants hoping to cross the border before the U.S. cracks down.
“It opens the flood gates, but you have now that people feel like there is a timeline, they have something to lose. We see more pursuits, more agent assaults more things that are going to cause and concern the safety of our units,” says Chris Cabrera, a U.S. Border Patrol officer and the vice-president of the National Border Patrol Council.
Citizens who have longed work to curb illegal immigration say they are seeing more action on the ground that they’ve seen in years.
“We are attracting even more people to come illegally,” says Jean Swan, a volunteer with a citizen patrol group Texas Border Volunteers. “They are talking about a ‘pathway to citizenship,’ so now people are flooding in for that.”
“None of these people who might cross now would be beneficiaries of what is being debated. There is a terrible irony to it all,” says Doris Meissner, a senior fellow and Director of the U.S. Immigration Policy Program at the Migration Policy Institute.
While the Senate bill specifically outlines immigrants’ need to be in the U.S. before 2011 to be eligible for the legalization process, experts say the details aren’t as well-advertised as the outcome of legalization itself.
“Whenever there is the hope of the program such as the one in the Senate, information gets out, misinformation gets out and people respond,” says Audrey Singer, a senior immigration fellow at the Brookings Institution. “People hear what they want to hear. They may like the idea. And the details? They will worry about them later.”