Better late than never - words that apply to Sen. Lindsey Graham's new bill that calls for a major overhaul in the nation's antiquated laws that have created a porous border.
Congress has known for at least a decade that current border regulations are toothless, and have created what Graham called a "perfect storm." In April, immigration officials detained about 100,000 migrants, and the Department of Homeland Security projects that total border apprehensions will reach one million during fiscal year 2019.
To end the current practice of Central American nationals from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador coming to the U.S. with a child, which may or may not belong to the adult traveler, and then turning themselves over to Border Patrol to start the asylum process, Graham's legislation has four major objectives.
First, Northern Triangle asylum applications would be filed at a local Central American processing center or in Mexico, not the U.S. Second, if held in the U.S., the maximum time period a family could be detained would increase from 20 days as per the outdated Flores Settlement to 100 days. Third, 500 new immigration judges would be appointed to reduce the backlog of cases, about 875,000 strong. And fourth, unaccompanied minors from noncontiguous countries would be processed in the same manner as thosefrom Mexico and Canada, and could therefore if appropriate be safely and humanely returned to their home.
Should Graham's bill become law - unlikely in the current toxic congressional atmosphere - it would have immediate and long-term benefits. Tighter border laws would end what is essentially a shameful U.S. human trafficking subsidy. Few are more aware of the ease of entry across the border than the coyotes and cartels. And getting north is not always about pursuing the Great American Dream.
According to the United Nations Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, at the end of a treacherous 2,000-mile journey from Central America, the migrants are too often subjected to inhumane labor conditions and sexual exploitation. Migration advocates are fond of saying that slowing the Central American flow is "not who we are." But enabling criminal trafficking enterprises that exploit defenseless women and children, the current practice that congressional inaction encourages, is most definitely not who we are.
Catch and release will negatively affect the jobs market, K-12 school systems and hospitals. After six months, Central American asylum seekers qualify for work authorization documents, and will likely enter the labor market. Since most are unskilled and have limited English, they'll seek employment in the service industry at hotels, restaurants and in maintenance where they will compete directly with lower-income and American minorities for increasingly scarce jobs. Artificial intelligence and large immigration surges are bad for U.S. workers, especially for less-skilled Americans.
The migrant children will need to attend already overcrowded public schools. Once enrolled, the students will need English language instruction, and other special services that their traumatic journey necessitates. These costly services strain the already overburdened school budgets, and put extra demands on teachers. Hospital overcrowding may be more dire than the public school enrollment crisis. Since they might have medical conditions that have gone untreated for years, newly arrived migrants may need ongoing medical attention.
While Congress has debated border security for decades, little is said about the aftermath once the migrants enter the U.S. interior - what effect will they have on the U.S. labor market, how many new schools and hospitals must be built, and how will they be paid for? These are questions that serious leaders would ask and answer, but that Congress refuses to address.
Border security and protecting Americans' well-being in the employment market, education and health care shouldn't be partisan issues. But, on immigration, rancor reigns supreme while the nation's best interests are ignored.
Joe Guzzardi is a Progressives for Immigration Reform analyst who has written about immigration for more than 30 years. Contact him at [email protected]