Cooperation is Possible

Mar 27, 2014

In the border towns from Hachita, NM to El Paso, TX, the news about immigration reform hasn’t changed much.  Here, the border is something we live with every day—as we commute to work, as we go to school, as we read the local news.  Immigrants aren’t statistics or political issues, they are spouses, cousins, neighbors, coworkers, friends.

Immigration reform goes beyond party lines.  Everybody here knows we need it.  Commuters want an easier drive and better security practices.  Ranchers whose land reaches the border want to find better ways to work with the border patrol agents who keep them safe.  Family members of U.S. citizens want a way to finally join their husband or wife here in the U.S.  Business owners want clear answers and better hiring procedures.  Everyone is affected, and everyone wants solutions.

To find those solutions, we should concentrate on what we agree on.  We already know what the two sides disagree on—but that’s only a small piece of the bigger picture.  As a Texas Democrat and a New Mexico Republican, it’s no secret that we don’t agree on everything.  But without compromising our own principles, we can still find some common ground.

That’s why the two of us are trying something different.  At a time when partisan gridlock grinds Washington to a halt, and people doubt whether anything will ever change, we’re coming together.  A Republican and a Democrat, a New Mexican and a Texan, working in spite of our differences to find the solutions we can agree on.

We started last fall, with a simple proposal to help American families.  We both agreed that our laws should not tear families apart, yet that is exactly what it does.  We heard from constituents who have been separated from their families because of minor technical violations, or issues that occurred long ago, when the family member was a minor.  Until 1996, a judge could review such cases, but a minor change in the law has left these families without any voice.  So, we teamed up to introduce our simple bipartisan solution: the American Families United Act.  This bill would again grant discretionary authority to review certain such cases, so that we can make honest, human determinations in our immigration system.

Now, we’re teaming up again to address another issue.  We represent very different districts, but we had both heard similar concerns: local Border Patrol lacks accountability, and struggles to interact with the local community.  Commuters worried that they had nowhere to go if they felt mistreated.  Ranchers worried about gates left open by agents as they did their jobs.  So, this week, we introduced H.R. 4303, the Border Enforcement, Accountability, Oversight, and Community Engagement Act of 2014.  The bill adds new training to help Border Patrol agents work closely with the communities in which they serve.  And, it introduces an ombudsman so that locals can have their voices heard and a channel for their concerns to be resolved quickly and effectively.

These bills are only a starting point.  There is still a long road ahead of us, and much work to be done.  But we just don’t accept the line that immigration reform is dead, or that we are out of solutions.  It is possible to come together.  It is possible to end the gridlock.  And it is possible to create a better future.

Congressman Steve Pearce, a Republican, represents New Mexico’s Second Congressional District, which includes the state’s entire border with Mexico.  Congressman Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat, represents Texas’ Sixteenth Congressional District, which includes the El Paso area.  The two have now cosponsored two separate bills related to border and immigration issues.