This painful situation should not be allowed to continue. It is also politically dangerous for a president and administration that, in contrast to the Trump fiasco, wants to show compassion while also stanching the flood of people frantic to escape grinding poverty and extreme violence and get into the U.S.
The problem is best analyzed by breaking it down into its component parts:
- Addressing the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants, including “Dreamers,” already here.
- Turning the flood of humanity at the border into an orderly flow.
- Encouraging would-be immigrants to remain in their countries of origin.
- Educating Americans on the benefits of immigration.
Item (1) is relatively easy to resolve. All that is needed is a reasonable path to citizenship that is not prohibitively lengthy or expensive for applicants. The vast majority of undocumented immigrants are hard-working, tax-paying and dollar-repatriating folks who already add far more to GDP and American society than they cost. Legalizing their status benefits not only them, but also us.
Item (2) is tougher. It will require the investment of modest resources to expand the current administrative process by which we decide asylum cases, along with a return to the pre-Trump asylum regime instead of the viciously biased system he put in place to deny asylum to virtually every candidate. In addition, we need to at least triple the number of Immigration Judges and select them on a merit basis akin to the prior Administrative Law Judge selection process that Trump trashed by politicizing it.
It also requires raising the refugee ceiling that Trump lowered so that only a handful of qualified applicants could get in annually. Biden has already taken positive steps in this direction.
If we want immigrants to remain in Mexico while they wait for the U.S. to process them, we must assist Mexico in humanely caring for and feeding them. FEMA is experienced in setting up the infrastructure necessary to do this.
Item (3) requires a three-pronged approach:
First, after we have inoculated our population against Covid-19, we should supply vaccines to Central America and temporarily supplement their public health infrastructure to quickly vaccinate their citizens.
Second, we should look to the Marshall Plan as a model for Central America. In a remarkably short time, the Plan stabilized and transformed a war-devastated Western Europe burdened with 40 million displaced persons into a thriving economic powerhouse and secure democracies resistant to Communism and eager for American goods and services. The investment was modest given the enormous economic and political returns. Moreover, in an environment conducive to corruption, on-the-ground American management of the investment resulted in negligible graft. Prosperity is the best antidote to emigration. Biden has already pledged $4 billion for something like this. More will be needed. The money invested in the region will more than pay for itself in reduced border security and immigration processing and related costs.
Third, the gang violence that drives many migrants to flee is largely fueled by out-of-control drug cartels kept in business by U.S. demand. Our 50-year “War on Drugs” focused on supply interdiction has been a multi-trillion dollar failure. If only a fraction of the resources being wasted in this unwinnable war were redirected to the demand side, the American market that keeps the cartels going would shrink along with the fear that drives migrants northward.
Item (4) is the easiest one to implement. American K-12 and college curricula have shrunk history and civics education to bare survival levels. They need to be reinvigorated. Immigration history and immigrants’ contributions to American society, culture and the economy need to be part of these classes.
Admittedly, these are ambitious goals, ones that Republicans in terror of Trump’s tantrums will not support. Nevertheless, they are reasonable solutions to a problem that will only escalate if nothing is done. Bundling these proposals into one bill would likely qualify it for the reconciliation process whereby only a simple congressional majority would suffice.
April 9, 2021