May 19, 2024

Want to fix the border crisis? Stop playing politics and start working together.

Last week, I visited our Border Patrol agents at the Campo station in East County San Diego. This was the most recent of my regular visits to our Southern border, and there is no question the situation on the ground has changed for the worse in the last couple of years and is untenable.

The men and women of the Border Patrol are doing their job as best they can under extremely difficult circumstances. It is clear to me that they are overwhelmed. Our asylum system is broken. The numbers of people trying to come in have skyrocketed as migrants from all over the world, not just Mexico and South America, seek a better life in America.

According to a report by the Brookings Institution, out of the total population of individuals seeking to immigrate to the U.S., Mexicans are still the largest group of U.S. immigrants at 24%, but this is down from 30% in 2000. Other countries that follow include India at 6%, China at 5%, the Philippines at 4%; El Salvador, Vietnam, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic at 3%; and Guatemala and Korea at 2%. At the Campo Station that I visited last week, Ecuador and Colombia are the top two countries of origin.

We need to hire thousands of new Border Patrol agents to keep up with the challenges they face. We also need to make it easier for the Border Patrol to fill vacancies, a challenge exacerbated by the large number of Border Patrol agents planning to retire in the next five years.

We must also dramatically reduce the current immigration backlog. According to research by the Brookings Institution, as of January 2024, there was a backlog of 3.3 million cases in the immigration courts. California has the third largest immigration court backlog among the states, with cases that can take 2 to 3 years or longer to get a hearing. As of January, only 682 immigration judges were serving on the bench. Given the enormous increase in migrants, the new average number of pending cases per judge is 4,500. Per the Congressional Research Service, doubling the current number of judges would end the backlog by 2032.

The bipartisan border security bill crafted by Senators James Lankford (R-OK), Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ), and Chris Murphy (D-CT) would have helped dramatically in these areas. But the bill also had its limitations. Enforcement alone isn’t enough.

We need to ensure there are safe, legal ways for people to immigrate into the U.S. while also making it harder to come here illegally, and we need to provide a pathway to citizenship for those who meet certain qualifications.

This includes Dreamers and other undocumented immigrants who have lived here for many years, pass a background check, and pay taxes, especially those married to a U.S. citizen, or those stuck waiting several years on their cases. The same should be true for caregivers to a spouse or child who is a U.S. citizen.

It is unfortunate that former President Donald Trump and House Speaker Mike Johnson sabotaged a strong bipartisan border security bill from becoming law, to instead play politics with border security to score political points during an election year.

But what also concerns me is the language of hatred and fear Trump regularly uses to talk about immigrants, which only further emboldens extremists. From his public statements as well as those of his key advisor Stephen Miller, we know Trump would attempt to deport Dreamers and others who have lived and worked here for decades. Mass deportations of millions and family separation policies are wholly inconsistent with our values as Americans, not to mention that such policies would have a devastating impact on our economy.

I am also concerned that given the reality of Congressional inaction, President Biden isn’t using all the tools at his disposal to better address security at the Southern border, interdict illicit fentanyl, and allow for orderly legal immigration. That’s why I joined with more than a dozen of my Democratic colleagues to write the President last week requesting he take further executive action.

These issues are personal to me as the grandson of Mexican immigrants on my mother’s side who came here last century searching for a better life. My grandparents worked hard, played by the rules, and achieved the American dream that enabled their children to succeed. Now, their youngest grandson is a United States Congressman.

As policymakers, we can either use the issue of immigration to selfishly fortify our political agendas or instead work together to ensure legal immigration complements border security in a genuine way that improves the situation in the short- and long-term.  My view is that this is fundamentally a national security issue and should be nonpartisan. I think you deserve for your elected leaders to do better than point fingers.

By:  Rep. Mike Levin
Source: Orange County Register