OPINION: Congress can slow illegal immigration by making legal immigration easier


Connor Hughes

In today’s age of politics, consensus is exceedingly rare – particularly in national politics. However, one has emerged: the United States’ immigration system is broken.

Conservatives point to caravans of people coming to the U.S., tearing down fences and showing little regard for the rules of the country they are entering. 

In March, President Donald Trump tweeted, “We are apprehending record numbers of illegal immigrants – but we need the Wall to help our Great Border Patrol Agents!”

More recently, liberals observed the inherent cruelty of Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids ripping families apart and devastating local communities. 

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, made headlines for calling detention centers on the border “concentration camps,” invoking imagery of the Holocaust by using the phrase “never again.”

Yes, both sides engage in hyperbole, but not equally. Trump’s immigration policy frequently dances the line of xenophobia, often crossing it with comments calling “some” immigrant Mexicans “rapists and criminals.” Ocasio-Cortez’s comments absolutely drip in political rhetoric and beg the question, where was the outrage regarding these camps under the Obama administration? 

Liberals have proposed a variety of solutions – the dumbest belonging to Julian Castro, who proposed making illegal entry into the country a civil, rather than criminal, penalty, which would decriminalize the border.

Liberals, if you would like four more years of Trump, follow Castro’s approach – the attack ads will write themselves.

Here are the facts: according to the Fiscal Year 2018 ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations Report, ICE booked 396,448 people into custody, be it from waiting for an asylum claim or detained due to illegally entering the U.S. In 2017, the Pew Research Center estimated 10.5 million immigrants were in the U.S. without legal permission. The ACLU tracked at least 2,654 children detained by the Trump administration due to the family separation policy. In 2017, ICE arrested or sent back just over 400,000 people at the southern U.S. border.

Illegal immigration has largely declined since 2000, but, as the statistics show, a large number of individuals are still affected by immigration policies.

The venerated wall of Trump’s dreams is not a good solution. Immigration policy experts believe a combination of technology, including more surveillance and radar systems, and increased numbers of border patrol agents are better solutions than a massive wall.

Janet Napolitano, Obama’s Homeland Security secretary from 2009 to 2013, was ahead of her time when critiquing President George W. Bush’s border policy, saying, “You show me a 50-foot wall, I’ll show you a 51-foot ladder.”

The same is applicable to Trump’s infamous border wall.

One area we all can agree on is: taking families out of established living in the U.S. is significantly more cruel than preventing entrance in the first place. Imagine establishing a life, creating a family and giving back to the community, all for it to be ripped away one day. We should do as much as possible to prevent these scenarios. One solution is by decreasing the number of immigrants that successfully enter the country illegally in the first place. 

It is important to keep the offense at hand in mind. Illegal immigration violates both the principle of state sovereignty and the rule of law. Many of these immigrants come from terrible situations, but it is not fair to allow them to cut the line to our country when the U.S. has an established system, particularly when people wait for years on end to acquire the documents necessary for legal entry. 

Immigration laws are created by elected representatives, to ignore them is to ignore the living will of the people, a basic affront to our system of government.

So, how do we stop this? Invest more money specifically for border patrol and technology. Congress has the power of the purse, hop to it. Invest in more immigration judges to process asylum claims quicker, thus reducing the average stay in detention centers. Speed up and reduce costs of the legal immigration system to eliminate incentives for illegal entry. 

Lastly, conservatives should look to the not-too-distant past regarding immigration policy: Ronald Reagan was the last president to grant mass amnesty to illegal immigrants. There should be some penalty paid for breaking U.S. law — but uprooting families is psychologically damaging, morally reprehensible and prohibitively costly. Perhaps contributing to but not receiving social services, outside of programs for children, repays the crime committed.  

The U.S. is simultaneously a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws, we should honor both traditions going forward. Rather than a wall or political rhetoric, it’s time for legitimate solutions to come to the forefront that prevent devastating cruelty in the U.S.