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Old White Guys Focus on Militarizing Border, While Real Americans Descend on DC Looking for Reform

Thousands rally for immigration reform while a few want to continue to militarize the border.

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So many American flags were waving among the crowd that it could have been a Fourth of July celebration, except that there were just as many kids wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the imperative: “Don't Deport My Mom” and signs demanding “Reforma Imigratora Ahora!” (Immigration Reform Now!).

Wednesday's rally for immigration reform drew thousands of people from across the country to the west lawn of the Capitol, where their presence urged Congress to make citizenship possible for the estimated 11 million undocumented people living in the United States.

The jostling crowd included people who had traveled from as far away as California, to a group that had marched several miles from DC's Mount Pleasant neighborhood. Young parents pushed strollers, grandparents pushed walkers, children chased each other through a sea of legs. There were people playing drums and chanting into loudspeakers.

On stage, a rotating cast of speakers included NAACP president Benjamin Jealous, matriarch of the migrant farmworker movement Dolores Huerta, representatives from the LGBTQ movement, union officials, leaders from Pacific Islander, African and Asian communities, bishops of different nationalities, Dominican pop star Andy Andy, and a host of other media personalities and activists standing alongside the Dreamers – undocumented youth demanding access to higher education.

Many on stage spoke Spanish, and either translated their own words or left it up to the gringos to figure out for themselves. Sometimes English was spoken without a Spanish translation. The vast majority of the crowd was Latino, but when a Muslim leader delivered a prayer in Arabic, the crowd erupted in cheers as if they'd understood every word. Translation was besides the point—everyone was there to deliver a message to Congress and it came across loud and clear: the time is now for immigration reform.

Prior to the afternoon rally, In the quieter morning hours before bachata music echoed throughout Capitol Hill, a different dialogue was taking place in a Senate office building.

Members of the Senate Committee for Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs convened to hear testimony from Border Protection officials on how successful they've been at keeping a single land mass divided into different countries.

Chairman Thomas Carper, D-Delaware, opened the hearing by stating, “Today illegal immigration is at historic lows. The unprecedented taxpayer-funded investments that we've made to secure our borders is working.”

These taxpayer-funded investments amounted to nearly $18 billion in 2012—more than all other law enforcement agencies combined, according to a recent study by the Migration Policy Institute. The study also found that a larger number of people are held in the immigration detention system than are incarcerated in Bureau of Prisons facilities. But it isn't clear if the drop in unauthorized immigration is a result of the funding glut or a recession-induced lack of appeal to those seeking work, or some combination thereof.

In their testimony, witnesses agreed that the border is more “secure” than ever before. There seemed to be consensus on the issue until Senator John McCain, R-Arizona, took his turn to speak.

“I've been down on the border for the last 30 years and there have been significant improvements. But we really don't know how significant they are,” he said.

He went on to cite a report by the Government Accountability Office which states that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CPB) does not have a strategic plan for defining border security and the resources necessary to achieve it. Right now the department uses the number of apprehensions -- instances where undocumented people are prevented from crossing into the US -- to determine how effective it is in controlling the border. The problem, from McCain's perspective, is that there is no way of knowing how many people manage to cross without being stopped.

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