In the News
El Paso Times Op-ed: The Border Republicans Have Built
El Paso, TX, October 20, 2022
It should now be clear that the Republican strategy – addressing immigration at the border – has been an expensive and tragic failure.
For decades, Republicans have stalled immigration reform legislation, arguing that we must “secure the border” first. And for decades, Democrats cooperated, voting in favor of building walls, increasing the Department of Homeland Security budget to historic levels, and recently, some Democrats even joined Republicans in calling on the Biden administration to continue the rapid expulsion policies begun by Donald Trump.
None of this has prevented or slowed migration and it should now be clear that the Republican strategy – addressing immigration at the border – has been an expensive and tragic failure.
Despite this, Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy promised this week that if Republicans regain the majority in November, they have no intention of passing immigration reform and will continue to only focus on the border. This will be disastrous for our country.
Limiting legal pathways means immigrants have no “line” to get into, no “right way” to immigrate. So they migrate using irregular, more dangerous pathways. This is the border Republicans have built.
2,000 migrants per day
Over the decades, El Pasoans have seen the consequences of that strategy. This summer has been especially challenging. For the last three months, we’ve seen more than 1,000 migrants arriving per day. During September and October, those numbers have climbed to nearly 2,000 people per day, the majority being Venezuelan migrants fleeing economic disaster in their home country.
For years, asylum-seekers have been released by CBP to non-profits like Annunciation House (and most recently local governments), who fill a humanitarian gap left by the federal government and help migrants get to their sponsors in different parts of the country. But the more people who arrive, the greater the stress on the community.
Less than two years into his administration, President Biden is doing more than any other administration to tackle migration issues: working with hemispheric partners to get to root causes; collaborating with neighboring countries also impacted by growing numbers of refugees; reimbursing local communities and NGOs for costs incurred (a first); and launching an unprecedented effort to dismantle human trafficking organizations.
Even so, this isn’t enough. We must do more.
Immigration will help labor shortage
First, we should recognize that immigration will help address today’s (and tomorrow’s) labor shortage. Immigration keeps us competitive, helps adequately fund important programs like Social Security and, given the state of the economy, it can ease supply chain and inflationary pressures as well.
During my visits with migrants both in Border Patrol custody and at the city and county processing centers, I met a number of professionals – accountants, electricians, a chef, construction workers. I even met a music professor. All of them spoke of the broken economies in their homeland and all came seeking work.
If Congress is unable to pass immigration reform or expand and streamline work visas because of Republican intransigence, the administration should allow these asylum-seekers to gain work permits within 30 days instead of the six months they currently have to wait. Employers need the help, migrants can and should be able to sustain themselves with a good job while they await their asylum hearings, and their employment would ease the pressures on the communities welcoming them.
Our outdated processing system at the border also needs to be reformed.
Get agents to their mission
In 2019, my first year in Congress, I brought nearly 20% of Congress to the border to tour facilities and see first-hand what Congressional inaction had led to. I immediately noticed that border patrol agents were performing functions at the Central Processing Centers (CPC) that could and should be performed by civilians, like data entry and care-giving of the migrants. It was inconceivable to me that men and women with a gun and a badge were being taken away from their duties on the border to care for vulnerable populations. This practice makes our border less secure.
It was then that I championed the creation of a civilian workforce (professionals called Processing Coordinators) to help get agents back to their mission. I’m advocating to expand on this success and completely civilianize the CPC workforce altogether. And we can go further: add humanitarian and legal support, and incorporate the work being done by NGOs and local governments into that processing. This would not only ensure agents are focused on the border but would also relieve local governments of a federal responsibility, creating a more efficient, safe border.
Finally, the State Department should reinstate in-country processing, a practice eliminated by the Trump administration. This would prevent some migrants from making the treacherous journey north.
No quick fix
These are but a few examples of the work Congress needs to do. There is no single solution, no easy answer, and no quick fix to decades of failed policy.
It’s frustrating that Congress hasn’t acted and that some politicians seek to exploit the situation. The last best effort to reform our outdated system came and went in 2013 when the Senate presented the House with a bipartisan compromise that would both offer legal pathways and unprecedented sums for border security.
But that bill failed in the House because of the far-right members who wanted to focus only on border security. Some of the same Republicans who complain the loudest about the border are the same politicians who derailed that effort.
I’m grateful to the El Paso community and leaders who focus on collaboration and solutions and who are committed to addressing our challenges with humanity and dignity. And those politicians who use our community as a prop while offering only misinformation or no solutions at all should be held to account.
We are a nation of immigrants. We can create a system that is fair, efficient, and strategic. But it will require that we abandon the nativism that drives much of the debate today. It will require that we hold Congress accountable and that Americans accept and be patient about the hard work ahead. It will require us to be honest about the failures of the past.
What’s that saying about doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result?