There is an immigration crisis, but it is not the current surge of illegal migrants now trying to enter the United States on our southern border, including as many as 500 unaccompanied children a day, as Republican politicians keep claiming on Fox News in their bid to undermine President Joe Biden.
What’s happening on the border is an ongoing serious problem, to be sure, and the moral imperative of taking proper care of innocent children in a bad situation demands all the attention the federal government can provide. But it’s not some kind of crisis that poses an existential danger. It’s just another mess the Democrats are having to clean up from the previous Republican administration that made eliminating immigration and treating immigrants with cruelty a priority.
A pack of Republican senators, including Sen. Thom Tillis, took a trip to the Mexican border recently to tour the Border Patrol facilities where apprehended illegals, especially the children, are being kept. After spending awhile looking around and talking to agents, they happily lined up at a press conference with crocodile outrage to lament the overcrowding as inhumane and blame Biden for everything.
The situation, everybody agrees, including Biden, is bad, similar to the massive surge of apprehensions under in 2019 where facilities were overflowing with unaccompanied children in deplorable conditions. The pandemic slowed the flow into the U.S., but the government says for the last 10 months, almost 100,000 people per month are being caught trying to enter the country illegally, and now more than 4,200 children are awaiting processing in facilities meant for only a few hundred and for much longer than legally allowed.
But aside from ignoring that the immigrant surge began under Trump policies long before Biden took office, what the senators didn’t say was that the vast majority of those caught are men who are immediately sent back to Mexico. They didn’t say that the numbers are consistent with seasonal patterns over the last several years, expected and cyclical.
They also didn’t say, but independent reporters did, that the facilities where children are being kept were not improved or even maintained from the 2019 surge by the previous administration, a problem worsened by the pandemic. And they didn’t say that most of the waiting children — 2,600, mostly teenagers — have been fully processed by the Border Patrol but are waiting to be transferred to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services facilities designed for minors where they can be turned over to sponsors or families, or safely returned home.
They didn’t say the children were coming, at least in part, because Trump killed an Obama program that would allow children to apply for visas while still in their own country. They didn’t say the government is doing everything it can as fast as possible to find additional housing, including using the Federal Emergency Management Agency and military bases.
And they also didn’t say that President Biden said he would not, as a matter of simple but commendable humanity, just turn the children loose back into Mexico. Biden said there’s no crisis, but it is a problem he promises — and has begun — to fix.
The real crisis, from which problems continue, is that America’s political leaders have willfully and irresponsibly refused to enact comprehensive immigration reform, choosing to use desperate illegal (politely known as “undocumented”) immigrants as political pawns for crass partisan advantage.
Both parties have done too little, but the biggest blame for decades falls on conservative Republicans, egged on by the immigrant-hating former president, who have killed every bipartisan attempt in either the House or the Senate to fix immigration.
The problem is not easy or inexpensive to solve, but it’s also not terribly complicated in principle. We have to find a way to deal both with non-Americans who are already here illegally and those who keep trying to come.
Currently, the number of undocumented workers in the U.S. is estimated at 10.5 million. Responsible leaders from both parties agree that we need to find a way to bring the law-abiding workers into society legally and fairly, with penalties but also a positive, permanent outcome that lets them come out of the shadows. We definitely need to protect the children of undocumented workers who came with their parents and were raised as Americans, the so-called “Dreamers.”
Stemming the surge is harder but also doable. The “wall” is a non-factor. True border security is reasonably in place. One thing most needed is a way for prospective immigrants to get U.S. visas in a timely manner within their own countries. Our embassies and consulates take years to process applications, and people stop waiting.
A bigger solution, one previous administrations were trying but Trump abandoned, is to help South American countries improve their living standards, safety and job prospects so fewer people would want to leave their homes.
We are a nation of immigrants, and the diversity and combined strengths of cultures and races makes us stronger and more prosperous. Immigrants are welcomed citizens of southern Nash County. They are friends and neighbors, not aliens.
Don’t let Republicans keep making immigration a political horror show. It’s time to stand up for what’s best for America, and for the good people who want to be Americans too.
Ken Ripley, a Spring Hope resident, is The Enterprise’s editor and publisher emeritus.
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