We are facing many challenges when it comes to immigration and border enforcement, but one thing must remain true and persistent; compassion for humanity and the struggles of those who seek life in the US must be our highest priority.
Immigrants are the heart of America, and for much of our history, we have described ourselves as “the great melting pot.” Most of our families arrived in this land as immigrants in search of a better life, more opportunity, and hope. That vision of America is still alive today, as evidenced by the millions of people who apply for residency or citizenship every year. We must continue to support these values because we are never stronger than when we have a healthy immigration system. Over the last decade, the American immigration system has failed to adapt to the reality of our current immigration situation and has failed to address protections needed for immigrants who are in-country but are undocumented.
We must act now on immigration reform to protect individuals seeking asylum and provide a secure pathway to citizenship for undocumented Americans. We must also act now to establish effective border security by supporting our customs agents and deploying advanced technological solutions. I believe we can achieve this in the following three areas of focus:
Secure pathway to citizenship for undocumented individuals.
Many undocumented individuals in the United States have worked hard, studied hard, and have become productive neighbors and friends. They have proven their dedication to our society, and we should provide a pathway to citizenship or permanent residency for their contributions to our country.
Expand migrant intake facilities.
The surge in migrants at the southern border is a trend that we can expect to continue for the foreseeable future. This is driven by natural disasters, poor economic opportunities, violence, and political instability. Without finding solutions to these problems, we must be prepared to process as many migrants and their families in a way that preserves their dignity and is aligned with our standards. This includes building more intake facilities with humane and acceptable shelter, food, and other accommodations. The Texas border is the Ellis Island of our generation and as such, we should strive for a standard that exemplifies our national character.
Expand legal aid for migrant families and unaccompanied minors.
Our legal system is difficult to navigate, especially for immigrants who are unfamiliar with US law and often face language barriers. We should provide more support to these individuals by recruiting more immigration specialists, social workers, translators, and volunteers who can assist. This can be accomplished by offering incentives like college credits, student loan forgiveness, and stipends based on tenure.
Create access to work and temporary resettlement programs.
With the backlog of asylum cases growing, it can take from 6 months to many years for a final verdict. We should seek opportunities to grant migrant families temporary settlement and work opportunities. These opportunities could 1) help solve temporary labor shortages, 2) allow individuals to earn money and actively contribute to the American economy through productivity and the payment of taxes, and 3) help asylees fully settle or relocate once their case has been heard.
Establish satellite migration services offices in common migrant countries.
The US should provide more asylum request services in the countries where migrants originate. If we can begin the process for these individuals while they are in their home country, we may be able to 1) protect them from making the dangerous journey north and 2) adjudicate cases in the individual’s home country, greatly reducing the cost of detention and repatriation services for those individuals who do not win their case.
Expand US embassy outreach programs on proper immigration policy.
Embassies have a role in educating the citizens of the country where they are established. We should encourage our embassies to provide more assistance to those who are seeking US residency and to reinforce the laws of our country.
Reexamine US immigration policy and reconsider sponsorship barriers.
Most importantly, we should reconsider the barriers of entry to becoming a US resident. We have created strict categories of “sponsorship” that make immigration exceedingly difficult. Lowering this barrier may help alleviate the migrant surge that we are seeing today.
3. Border Security
Invest in Technology based approaches to border enforcement.
The US and our border states have wasted millions of dollars on ineffective walls, fences, and other barriers that stretch through vast and remote regions of the US and Mexico border. We should instead invest in advanced technologies to better patrol our border including drones, cameras, and automated detection systems.
Expand Customs Intake Facilities.
Our ports of entry often face a backlog of vehicle and pedestrian traffic crossing the border every day. As a result, cartels have taken advantage by sending more drugs and weapons to the border in hopes that most of this illicit cargo makes it into the US undetected. We should support our customs agents by expanding our ports of entry with additional processing lanes, investing in cargo detection and compliance technology, and increasing the number of inspectors to deter this activity.
Continue Bilateral Cooperation with Mexico on Drugs and Human Trafficking.
The biggest threat at the border is not the migrant population pleading for asylum, it’s the cartel activities that continue to smuggle drugs, weapons, and victims of human trafficking across the border. We should work closely with our Mexican counterparts to develop innovative strategies to capture cartel leaders and end smuggling operations.