The American people have spoken. Although soundly rejecting the climate of fear, hate and deception surrounding immigration, immigration ranked high among the concerns of voters. U.S. policy cannot be grounded in exaggerated claims of threats posed by a caravan of desperate people seeking only to apply for asylum or a blatant political stunt of foolishly, improperly sending troops to the border, thus shamefully abusing our already overtaxed military. For many years, existing policy has been inconsistently, improperly, or ineffectively enforced. We need real comprehensive immigration reform and it must be a priority.
Congress for decades has failed to pass meaningful, effective legislation to address to growth and complexity of immigration. The most recent legislation to pass and become law was the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, signed by President Reagan, prohibiting the hiring of illegal aliens. This proved to be an ineffective, feeble attempt to address immigration reform, but at least Congress passed something. Nothing of real significance came out of Congress during the George H.W. Bush or Bill Clinton presidencies, although both leaders would have supported comprehensive reform. Congress and President George W. Bush were poised to pass what many believed to be strong legislation, but the bill never made it to a vote. They blamed the events of September 11, but there was plenty of time in Bush’s two terms.
The Obama administration tried to re-energize the immigration effort. While the Senate passed an excellent bill, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, House Republicans refused to allow a vote, despite the assurance of bi-partisan passage. President Obama, by executive order, provided relief to “Dreamers” with the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Despite the extreme necessity and propriety of DACA, Congress has refused to enact it into law and the Trump administration has attempted to end the practice. These are just the “highlights” of the past 32 years…
Immigration is a national crisis because our leaders have failed to display the political, legal, or moral courage to address the issue. They care more about playing demographic politics, even at the expense of our national interests. The vacuum of action and courage has led to significant national misunderstanding about U.S. immigration processes and policies and special interests fomenting fear and distrust through campaigns of dishonesty, and even violence.
The existing enforcement climate is extremely expensive, for little return on our taxpayer dollars, as well as extremely unfair to many people seeking to lawfully immigrate to our country. In many cases, individuals who apply in accordance with the law in U.S. embassies in their home country or at designated U.S. points of entry are forced to wait years before learning whether they have been granted asylum or citizenship. The perception is that many who enter illegally, who at least have the opportunity t live and work in the U.S., cut the line. Ineffective enforcement still costs exorbitant sums, with costs skyrocketing since the 1990s. According to the White House Budget office, the U.S. Border Patrol’s annual budget increased from $362.2 million to over $16 billion. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has grown from $3.3 billion since its inception to almost $9 billion. Citizenship and Immigration Services now gets almost $4.7 billion. Over $30 billion dollars annually on a failing system. This cries out for comprehensive reform and much needed improvements.
Most of the current crisis falls into three categories – emotional, legal, and political. Many Americans are appalled by today’s situation, viewing it as un-American and contrary to our values as a nation. The ongoing family separation policy is abhorrent, risking what inexplicably may be the permanent termination of parent-child relations after parents are deported. Thousands of individuals seeking asylum or otherwise lawful entry are living in camps in squalor during the dilatory processing of their claims. Dreamers, who were brought here as innocent children and who must meet strict qualifications under DACA are now unconscionably living in fear of possible deportation. This must be fixed without delay. DACA should be the easy component of this process.
The rule of law has always been and must remain the cornerstone of our democracy. Congress must pass legislation including clear guidance on the processes to be used in all aspects of immigration – filing asylum claims, applying for lawful resident status and citizenship, investigation and enforcement of cases, and of course proper due process review prior to deportation or other punishment. The majority of individuals in ICE and CBP are dedicated professionals trying to do a good job. They are often frustrated by the laws and policies they are required to enforce and suffer from a lack of leadership, especially by Congress and political appointees leading their agencies. The lack of proper guidance, policy, and resources offends all.
Congress should invest in an actuarial approach to immigration to help develop or update immigration standards. How many immigrants can our nation, specifically the economy, support each year? What should constitute an exception allowing increased immigration when circumstances dictate? What are the appropriate, necessary, and fair criteria that can govern the application and acceptance process? What is the proper role for demonstrating skills, education or otherwise indicating an ability to contribute to society upon entry?
We have seen incredibly cowardice and intransigence from Congressional leaders for decades. Even in the face of clear bipartisan support for immigration reform legislation, Congressional leaders, specifically Speaker Ryan and Leader McConnell block the legislation from getting a vote. Presidents have attempted to use executive orders, but that is not an effective method and is often not legally viable. Immigration reform is a critical issue for the American people. They must demand their leaders work on comprehensive legislation, attempt to reach consensus, and bring the best bills to the floor for a vote. Threats of veto be damned, this is the will of the people and an incredible need for the country’s future. The crisis will only get worse and all people deserve better.