U.S. Customs and Border Protection reports that almost 190,000 migrants were apprehended or encountered at the U.S.-Mexico border in June – the highest number in more than a decade.
Many are families or unaccompanied children, fleeing violence and persecution and seeking protection. Many see coming to the border and petitioning for asylum as their only hope.
Both parties tend to use immigrants and immigration as a political cudgel. What we need are solutions that work for all Americans.
Here’s a counterintuitive one in this era of political polarization: Find a bipartisan path to immigration reforms that will bolster our security and ease pressures at the border by strengthening legal immigration.
Congress, in effect, has six legislative weeks left to do business in 2021. Immigration bills that address border security, the status of farmworkers and Dreamers, and strengthen our economy and national security must be brought back to the top of the legislative calendar. And Democrats and Republicans must set aside their politicking and work together.
Over the past six months, increased migration at the southern border has led to both humanitarian and security challenges.
Some lawmakers, including Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona), have brought bipartisan leaders to the table. Vice President Kamala Harris visited leaders in South American countries, and leaders in both parties have visited the border. Unfortunately, momentum is still lacking.
Alongside my fellow national security leaders who make up the Council on National Security and Immigration (CNSI), I believe that our dated immigration laws are part of the problem. Left unaddressed, these policies could lead to national security vulnerabilities.
By coming together to pass immigration reforms, Republicans and Democrats in Congress and the administration would ease pressure on the border and reduce both push and pull factors driving unauthorized migration. These reforms will also strengthen our national security posture and reaffirm our values in an uncertain world.
Members of Congress should sit down together, across party lines, and show leadership on real immigration reforms. Rebuild a sensible conversation that recognizes our security needs at the border and elsewhere and the incredible potential for all Americans if we can reform our long-broken immigration system.
Here are 3 solutions that we hope can, at the very least, start the discussion productively:
Secure the border. Past administrations have invested greatly in the border through physical means as well as new technologies. Effective policy at the border should concentrate further investment in ports of entry to curtail drug smuggling and support orderly and humane border processing for asylum seekers. This will also lessen vulnerabilities that may present themselves due to inefficient or slow processing.
Resources should be allocated to improve border security where improvements are necessary, invest in effective border surveillance and reconnaissance technologies, and promote asylum-seekers swift, fair adjudication. Modernizing our border management system will ensure that the Border Patrol is equipped to detect bad actors and mitigate security threats.
Prioritize farmworkers and Dreamers. With approximately 78% of farmworkers born outside the U.S., and over 1.5 million undocumented workers working in the food supply chain, immigrants largely ensure food security for the American people. There is broad support for policies that safeguard our agricultural workforce and the broader food supply chain, which will bolster the physical, economic, and social well-being of communities across the country.
An estimated 1 million Dreamers have been serving on the frontlines during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some are temporarily protected via Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). A recent court order, however, closed the DACA program to new applicants. Only a permanent legislative solution will end the instability that DACA recipients and their American employers and communities continue to face.
Ensure our economy and workforce remain competitive. Immigration reforms can help us meet our future labor market demands and strengthen our economy. Moreover, to ensure we remain competitive in our ongoing contest with China, Congress and the Biden administration should implement forward-thinking immigration policies and administrative structures that encourage innovation by attracting, welcoming, and retaining high-skilled foreign nationals, students, and entrepreneurs.
Acting on these priorities in a bipartisan way will strengthen the U.S. economy, improve our national security posture, and restore our country’s reputation as a global humanitarian leader. We believe the best way to solidify support for these proposals is for both parties to work together. Congress can put its best and most rational minds to the task, but it needs to happen quickly.
As a national security leader who served in the U.S. government, I believe these immigration reforms will strengthen our security and benefit all Americans. We hope that leaders in both parties will listen, come together, and compromise.
• Paul Rosenzweig was a Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy at the Department of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush. He is the founder of Red Branch Consulting, a homeland security consulting company. He is a member of the Council on National Security and Immigration.