U.S. Border Patrol agent Jerry Conlin looks out over Tijuana, Mexico, on June 13, from the old wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. After dropping during the recession, the number of immigrants crossing the border illegally into the U.S. appears has been on the rise, according to reports.
The humanitarian crisis engulfing the United States — tens of thousands of parentless Central American children pouring across the southern border — will surely increase in scope. And the reason is simple: America continues to send the message that we welcome illegal immigrants with open arms, even young ones traveling alone.
That’s not just insane, but downright cruel.
It’s one thing if illegal immigrant advocates lobby for amnesty and open borders, but openly encouraging parents to send their children on a perilous journey is heartless. And make no mistake: That’s exactly the message being sent. Not surprisingly, the biggest advocate of all is the U.S. government.
The influx of these children has taken the immigration issue to a whole new level. And here’s the underlying short-term problem: While most are eventually designated for deportation (the key word being "eventually"), it often takes years to get a hearing in immigration court. In the meantime, the children are left in a scary, isolated limbo, not living a productive life, and, worst of all, remain far away from where they belong: at home, with their parents and families.
The parents, not seeing their children return home a short time after sending them off, assume deportations are not taking place, and that their kids have been officially accepted into American society as part of an open amnesty program. As the old shampoo commercial said, those parents tell two friends, and they tell two friends, and so on, to the point where it becomes widely perceived that sending more children to America is the right thing to do.
But it’s not.
With so many dangers confronting these defenseless children during their trek to America, from sickness to being taken advantage of by unscrupulous adults in a host of horrible ways, we should be doing everything in our power to stop this exodus from Central America. Now. That would be the humanitarian thing to do.
Instead, as is the case for every major issue we face, we look to tactics, not strategies, to solve the crisis, amounting to Band-Aids on hemorrhaging wounds. America has lost its gift of foresight, becoming reactive instead of proactive and jettisoning its ability to eliminate problems before they start, or, at the least, confronting them head-on with the iron will to solve them.
A glaring example of this is the clamor, on both sides of the aisle, to better fund and staff our immigration courts as a way of alleviating the massive backlog of cases, now exponentially higher given the influx of children. (There are 243 immigration judges, an average of one to every 1,545 pending cases).
Nice idea, but it misses the whole point. Ramping up the immigration courts will never solve the problem, because it doesn’t address it. More courts, judges and hearings may slightly alleviate the supply side of illegal immigration, but does nothing to cut down the demand. Until we get serious about reforming a broken immigration system, which neither party has any interest in doing, things will only deteriorate, and more people will attempt to cross the order for the perceived amnesty. Tensions will continue to escalate between citizens and illegal immigrants they see as threatening their physical and economic security, and the situation will become measurably uglier. And when that occurs, no one wins.
Here are some common sense solutions, which, if articulated correctly, would be reasonable to the vast majority of Americans, while providing compassion to people who yearn for the better life America provides:
1.) Build the border wall. This is the single most important step to fixing the problem, as a formidable barrier will instantly send the message that America has gotten serious about stopping illegal border crossings. When families in Central America understand this, they will stop sending their children into harm’s way, saving countless lives. Since we have a $17 trillion debt, funding the wall won’t be an issue (what’s a few billion more?), but costs could be controlled by utilizing nonviolent prisoners and illegal immigrants to construct it. If we were smart, we would also stop giving foreign aid to any nation that encourages illegal immigration, and that refuses to accept their citizens whom we deport. That funding alone would be enough to build the wall.
Common sense tells us that a secure border wall would absolutely cut down the "supply" side of not just illegal immigrants, but drug traffickers and terrorists. Protecting our children and eliminating al-Qaeda’s free pass (possibly with a nuclear weapon) should be top priorities. For proof of effectiveness, look at Israel’s success with its wall. Walls work. Build it. Now.
2.) There is no need to militarize the border, as some advocate. The smart utilization of current resources (and a secure wall) would be more than adequate. The numbers tell the story: The southern border is 2,000 miles long. As of 2012, there were over 21,000 Border Patrol agents. Even if we take 3,000 agents out of the equation (more than enough to patrol the Florida shores and those sneaky Canucks), that leaves nine agents per mile, which is an extraordinarily high staffing level. Making America into a military state is anathema to what we stand for and totally unnecessary.
3.) Marketing America’s legal immigration policies in Central American nations is not mutually exclusive to instituting "self-deportation" policies for illegal immigrants. America is the most generous nation on Earth regarding legal immigration, and immigrants have always made America stronger. But the emphasis must be on entering the country legally.
One easy and cost-effective way to cut down on undocumented workers skirting the law is to mandate that all employers utilize the free E-Verify system, which quickly determines the legal status of a potential hire. Companies that do not comply should face stiff penalties. This is a win-win, as stringent law enforcement measures on businesses would also serve to eliminate lavish public benefits enjoyed by illegal immigrants — the mammoth costs of which are borne by taxpayers.
4.) We must place partisan politics aside and reasonably deal with illegals already here. Failure to do so will only exacerbate an already bad situation.
We can document the workers already here by issuing long-term or lifetime work visas (after they pass a criminal background check), while permanently denying them citizenship and possibly levying fines. In doing so, they would begin paying their "fair share" through taxes and lessen the financial burden on U.S. citizens.
That’s not amnesty, but the only realistic approach to finally solving a huge, decades-old problem. It penalizes lawbreakers, documents millions (bringing them out of the shadowy underworld) and makes them, and Americans, considerably safer. It would increase tax revenue and make formerly illegal workers pay into benefits programs.
Solving America’s illegal immigration crisis amicably and reasonably, while protecting the most vulnerable of any society — the children — can be summed up by the quote, "The solutions are simple; they’re just not easy."
For everyone’s sake — Americans, immigrants, and especially the youngest generation — it’s time to finally roll up our sleeves and get the job done.
Chris Freind is an independent columnist and commentator. He can be reached at [email protected]