The Biden administration has asked Congress for $106 billion in additional funding for the current fiscal year for “national security priorities,” including Ukraine, Israel and the border.
Specifically, the administration is asking for as much money for border management as it is for Israel — $14 billion. The request represents what the administration believes are our country’s highest national security priorities.
That border management was included in this list of defense and foreign policy priorities painted in sharp relief the crisis at our borders and the need for practical solutions to end that crisis. However, there has been a lack of serious conversation between political leaders and lawmakers about how to fix it. Money alone will not be enough.
A group of visiting scholars at Cornell Law School’s Immigration Law and Policy Program recently published a white paper outlining what we believe are three priority areas for immigration reform that have the potential to break the partisan impasse.
Along with proposals to address the lack of work and the status of Dreamers, much of the paper proposes solutions for the border. This recognizes both the central role that border security plays in the current political landscape and that this issue needs realistic, bipartisan solutions.
The document notes the drastic changes that have crossed the border in the last decade: the shift from Mexican migrants seeking work to migrants from around the world seeking asylum, the shift from the majority of detainees being deported quickly to a large number of migrants released. the United States to pursue their claims in immigration courts and the change from Immigration and Customs Enforcement detaining migrants for court cases to the mass release of migrants directly from the Border Patrol to shelters or on the streets of the border town.
These changes mark what we believe is a new paradigm at the border that our existing immigration laws, processes and infrastructure cannot address. Instead, we propose the following policies to reform our current border and asylum systems:
- Make it a priority to go after smugglers and criminal cartels who make billions of dollars off desperate migrants and encourage illegal migration.. These are not the unsophisticated little “coyotes” of others. The transnational criminal organizations that control the drug trade in the hemisphere now see migrants on the move as another line of business for their illegal enterprises. And just as they did with drug and money smuggling, these cartels are continually finding ways to take advantage of our inconsistent and changing border policies and procedures to facilitate the arrival of large groups of migrants.
- It creates alternatives for those seeking protection and allows decisions to be made long before migrants come to the border. Most migrants arriving at the border do not understand the US immigration system or what it takes to enter legally (something smugglers try to prevent them from knowing). So, by reaching the migrants before they travel to the border, we can help them understand that asylum is realistic for them or if there are other legal ways for them to enter the United States. If we correspond with an expansion of the refugee process in the region and create alternative legal paths for work or family reunification, we can take some pressure outside the border.
- Reform the asylum system for border arrivals to return it to its rightful place as the last resort for those in need of protection, not the first option for those seeking to immigrate. While some would like to see us simply stop all asylum at the border, most Americans still believe that we can and should offer protection to those who truly need it. US and international law also requires us to do so. But the current situation is simply beyond our system. We can’t offer protection to those who need it, or decide quickly enough that they don’t qualify and turn them away. We propose to create a separate and expedited asylum process for migrants who cross the border illegally between ports of entry while expanding and incentivizing processing at ports of entry. Combined with alternative legal pathways, such as refugee processing and expanded release at centers in Latin America, these new incentives/disincentives could reduce the demand for smugglers and irregular migration to more manageable levels and bring the Border Patrol back to its primary role is to capture those it tries. to avoid capture.
- Create a new Office of Migration Policy. Finally, given the dysfunctional failure of coordination among the many federal agencies and departments involved in our immigration system that has exacerbated problems at the border and made it impossible to craft and implement a cohesive policy, we propose to create a new statutory Office of Migration Policy in the White House to oversee policy and operational coordination and budget requests for the government’s efforts to implement all parts of our immigration system.
We understand that Congress and the White House are talking about some changes to the border as part of their funding package. But getting Congress to legislate on any immigration issue is an uphill battle. Yet political slogans and a reversion to past failed strategies will not solve our border security problems. We need new ideas. My co-authors and I hope that the proposals in our white paper will lead to realistic solutions.
Theresa Cardinal Brown is a distinguished visiting immigration scholar at Cornell Law School and a senior advisor at the Bipartisan Policy Center. The views expressed here are their own.
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