Finding a lasting solution to the problem of illegal immigration will be difficult. The reality is we have talked out of both sides of our mouths on this issue for years. We have pretended to be tough on illegal migrants while simultaneously tolerating and profiting from a continuous influx of people willing to work difficult, even dangerous jobs, for low wages. There is no one among us who can claim that he or she has really been oblivious to this phenomenon, that they could not see the people working in our restaurants, mowing our lawns, building our homes and working our farms.
These people have now been here for years, even, in some cases for decades. They have raised families, built lives and become, in every sense other than legal, Americans. We cannot now simply drive them out. Any way forward must include a path to the normalization of the status of these individuals. It need not be easy. It should not include criminals or those who want only to exist on the dole. It must provide a means for people who have come and worked and built new lives to move out of the shadows and become full participants in our society.
But, all of that is for later. That is Step Two.
Step One is getting control over the border, because until we do that and until we stem the influx of new illegal migrants, there is no way forward on anything else.
And, here is the dirty little secret about securing the border. It is less about sensors and drones and patrols and manpower than it is about a mindset. We can put all of the men and all of the technology we possess on the border, but, if the perception outside our borders remains that we are not serious, that we are in fact granting defacto amnesty to tens of thousands of individuals and turning them loose in the interior of the country then we are wasting our time. We do not have men, vehicles or money enough to stem the unending tide of humanity that will continue to press against our southern border.
Right now in Central America newspapers, radio and television are broadcasting to every man, woman and child the news that we are detaining migrants from nations other than Mexico, processing them, issuing them notices to appear in two weeks time and then driving them to the nearest bus station to continue their journey. This is not false information. This is not an erroneous perception. This is not part of some sinister plot on the part of human smugglers to cheat innocent victims.
This is, in fact, a completely accurate description of what we are doing, every single day. We are 'capturing' people on the border, holding them for a day or two and then handing them a piece of paper telling them to voluntarily appear for a hearing and dropping them off to catch a bus onward to wherever they intended to go in the first place inside the United States. If they do not appear and simply vanish, we do not go looking for them. The 'notice to appear' that we hand to the migrants is, in fact, known among border crossers as a 'permit' to enter the United States, and individuals detained by the Border Patrol often specifically ask for two things, to be driven to the bus station and to be given their 'permit'.
We have created a nightmare scenario in which every poor, disenfranchised individual in Central America now believes that if he or she can only make it to the border, they are home free. There is no end to the line of people making their way north.
The solution to this problem is simple and direct. Stop releasing detained migrants. Hold them until they are processed and returned to their home countries. In the short term, it will be a nightmare. We will hold many thousands of people. In the long term it will send the message that our policies have changed. The tide will recede. The crisis will be resolved.
This is, unfortunately, not what we are doing.
Our policy on processing and releasing detained individuals from countries other than Mexico remains unchanged. We are, however, taking several other actions, which will likely do nothing whatsoever to impact the flow of migrants, may even make it worse and will certainly mean the expenditure of a great deal of the taxpayers' money.
First, the Administration has announced that it will be funding, via a grant program, the provision of legal counsel to detained migrants. Undocumented immigrants have never been provided counsel before and have no right under US law to demand it, but that is now changing. An initial amount of $2 million has been set aside to pay 100 lawyers and other legal personnel in 29 cities in the United States to provide legal representation to individuals caught entering the country illegally. That means, that in the unlikely event that a migrant does appear for his or her hearing, the chances that he or she will now be able to find a way to remain in the United States will be increased.
A pardon extended by the government to a group or class of persons, usually for a political offense; the act of a sovereign power officially forgiving certain classes of persons subject to trial but have not yet been convicted. Mary Turner was awarded Amnesty Media Awards Winner, 2012 for this photo outlining various perspectives of Amnesty. | Photo: Mary Turner | Link |
Second, the Administration has decided to spend mountains of the taxpayers money on programs designed to help Central American countries deal with internal problems that may be driving people to emigrate and to help individuals who may be captured and detained and actually deported to readjust to life in their home country. In other words, after you pay to catch the individual illegally crossing the border, hold him, feed him, process him and ultimately transport him back to where he came from you will also now be paying to help him get his feet back on the ground.
Or, more likely, providing him with the seed money he will use to get started on making his next attempt to cross the border.
The total price tag for all the announced initiatives is somewhere in excess of $250 million.
In announcing the new initiative to provide legal counsel for detained migrants, Attorney General Holder had this to say. "We're taking a historic step to strengthen our justice system and protect the rights of the most vulnerable members of society. How we treat those in need, particularly young people who must appear in immigration proceedings ' many of whom are fleeing violence, persecution, abuse or trafficking ' goes to the core of who we are as a nation."
I applaud Attorney General Holder for his concern for the plight of humanity, but I think he has his priorities confused.
The most fundamental responsibility of any government is to provide for the security of its inhabitants. Part and parcel of that responsibility is the task of securing the borders and controlling immigration. Our national government is failing catastrophically in that responsibility. Rather than being focused on that fact, however, the Attorney General and the rest of the Administration remain apparently more concerned with the rights of individuals who have intentionally broken our laws or the welfare of the inhabitants of foreign nations than they do of our citizens.
I am all for helping friendly nations in Central America. I am all for making our immigration procedures as humane as possible. First and foremost, though, I am for securing the border and ending the policy of defacto amnesty we are currently pursuing.
That is Step One.