Houston Chronicle: Border Debate Can’t Happen Under Threat of Another Shutdown
By Veronica Escobar
Attempting to negotiate “border security” during a government shutdown, while hundreds of thousands of federal employees and their families struggled to stay afloat and communities were left reeling from the economic impact, was not only contrary to the democratic process, but it also all but guaranteed a terrible outcome for immigrants and the border.
Border communities like mine have always been at the epicenter of the “border security” debate. But ask policymakers how you measure what a “secure border” looks like and you’ll get radically different opinions. If there isn’t even agreement on how to define security at the border, how is addressing it during a shutdown even possible? The same goes for an issue as difficult to tackle as immigration reform.
For President Donald Trump, the border debate has been about one thing: a promise he made to his base that he is determined to fulfill.
For the last two years Republicans have controlled the House, Senate and White House. Why didn’t they build a wall when they had an iron grip on the executive and legislative branches?
Trump frequently mentions opioid addiction and the flow of drugs from Mexico. But as has been repeated numerous times, most drugs come through our ports of entry. A wall won’t stop them.
The president also points to the thousands of Central Americans seeking asylum who arrive at our border each month — a trend that began more than four years ago. A wall does nothing to address that. Anyone who’s set foot on our southern border and seen our current wall knows it is built yards away from the official U.S.-Mexico line, allowing asylum seekers to arrive at our doorstep after setting foot on American soil and literally walk up to our federal agents standing at the wall.
I will be the first to agree that we must address the Central American asylum issue; it is indeed unsustainable. Stemming that flow will take a long-term plan, significant investment and serious engagement. Progress won’t happen overnight, and we’ve yet to hear the president lay out a plan for that.
Most of these migrant families do not want to leave their home country, but desperation for safety and security gives them no other option. Sitting on our hands, threatening to pull funding from Central American nations, and not engaging in any meaningful way only guarantees that as the weather warms up, we will see even more families running for their lives. And when they arrive at our doorstep, on the southern border, we must abide by the law in the most humane way possible.
Before agreeing on a deal to temporarily reopen the federal government, Trump offered to exchange one set of hostages for another by again enabling Central Americans to seek asylum in their home countries after he previously eliminated that option. He offered to reunite families after his administration separated them. And, in a final insult, he offered to provide a temporary respite for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Temporary Protected Status recipients whose protected status he removed.
True immigration solutions include a path to citizenship for DACA and TPS recipients whose ties to our country enrich our communities. They also include reforming our outdated asylum standards and realizing that migration evolves. We must work with everyone — human rights and legal advocates, CEOs and farmers, small business owners and local governments — to begin the long-overdue discussion about immigration and how to best address our workforce needs as well as bring millions of people out of the shadows. Investment should flow to our ports, and the Department of Homeland Security should be audited and held accountable. All of that, too, will take time.
Should those conversations happen during a government shutdown? Absolutely not.
Believe me, members of my border community continue to hurt because of the negative effects of the Trump shutdown. Our immigration advocates have been waiting a long time for this discussion. But it deserves sober, thoughtful and honest debate. And never again — as one federal employee described to me — a decision made only because the president has a knife at our employees’ throats.
This wasn’t about securing the border. It was about the president securing his base.
Escobar is a Democratic representative from Texas’ 16th congressional district that serves El Paso and surrounding area.