The New Year begins in Washington as it ended, with an impasse on border security and immigration that has tied the president and Congress in a knot and left federal agencies in limbo. Rather than fighting over who’s to blame for the stalemate, it’s time for all parties to the conflict to accept responsibility for solving it.
There’s a way to cut this knot, but it requires everyone to look rationally at the immigration challenges confronting the United States. We face a very real crisis on our southern border, and it is not of our making. The failed states of Central America, encompassing Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador — abetted with the complicity of a faltering Mexico — have left their citizens bereft of hope of breaking endless cycles of crime, corruption, and grinding poverty.
Without a secure border the U.S. will continue to be swamped with desperate migrants seeking refuge here. It is not surprising that they see our country as the best and perhaps last hope of escaping oppressive conditions in their home countries. And while America has already welcomed millions of these refugees in the past few decades, there are limits to how many we can realistically absorb without overwhelming our own country. Think of America as a lifeboat, able to haul in only so many refugees before it is itself swamped.
That’s already happening along our border with Mexico. Ruthless smugglers and well-meaning but misguided immigrant advocates have helped deliver a flood of migrants to the U.S. border, taking advantage of a huge loophole in U.S. immigration policy that in fact encourages illegal immigration. Right now, there are over 700,000 cases of migrants who illegally jumped the U.S.-Mexico border and then claimed protection under U.S. law which — as currently interpreted and enforced — grants asylum to those fleeing political oppression or violence in their homelands.
It is not uncommon for many of these asylum seekers to deliberately surrender to U.S. border authorities and invoke this asylum protection, thereby triggering access into the U.S. legal system. And because of special humanitarian considerations given to adults accompanied by young children, many adult immigrants purposely travel with youngsters to take advantage of the additional U.S. legal protections. The results are too often tragic, with children exhausted by the long trek north facing sickness and death.
Once these asylum seekers make it past the border, they are routinely released by overwhelmed U.S. immigration judges, with the dubious expectation that they will voluntarily show up for subsequent court hearings. The reality of this “catch and release” dilemma is that large numbers of illegal immigrants simply melt away into the U.S. and become part of a growing problem here. They hide in the shadows, often work off the books, pay little or no taxes. Meanwhile, state and local governments are saddled with additional healthcare, education, and social services costs. This cost ultimately falls on law-abiding U.S. citizens.
While physically securing our borders will help stem the immigration tide, simply building a wall along the border will not alone stop determined illegals from climbing over or tunneling under it to seek entry though the gaping opening in U.S. immigration law. And the recent U.S. Supreme Court case affirming that “catch and release” can’t be fixed by administrative fiat or judicial decision-making but must be addressed by changing federal law underscores the importance of Congressional action. Congress and the president should start by reforming U.S. asylum law to replace the “catch and release” with a firm “catch and return” policy to send illegals back over the border. That’s the only practical way to deter the current immigrant flood.
As my former colleague Lindsay Graham has also suggested, as part of a compromise with Congress the president should again offer to finally deal with the hundreds of thousands of young people who were brought or came to the U.S. illegally over past decades; who have known only their adopted country; and who have been good citizens. There is overwhelming support on Capitol Hill to do this.
For their part, Democrats who now control the U.S. House of Representatives should also show an equal willingness to compromise with the president and support reasonable border security measures, including strengthening the physical border and deploying more human as well as technical resources to secure it.
If our leaders in Washington can stop digging in and start climbing out of the immigration hole, the entire country will be better for it.
This column was originally published in the Long Island Herald Community Newspapers.
Former Senator D’Amato served a distinguished 18-year career in the U.S. Senate, where he chaired the Senate Banking Committee and was a member of the Senate Appropriations and Finance Committees. While in the Senate, Mr. D’Amato also Chaired of the U.S. Commission on Cooperation and Security in Europe (CSCE), and served on the Senate Intelligence Committee. The former Senator is considered an expert in the legislative and political process, who maintains close relationships with Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle. He is regularly called upon for his advice and counsel, and is recognized for his incisive analysis of national and international political affairs. The former Senator will share insights gained from his years in Washington “with a clear-eyed view of the political forces that shape the world we live in today.” To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.