As a conservative Utahn and a Latter-day Saint, I have a unique view of our nation’s immigration policy. I’m proud of the hospitality extended by Utahns who welcome refugees and asylees. I think the perspective of Utahns from a conservative state whose ancestors fled their homes due to religious persecution is capable of informing solutions to the crisis at our southern border.
When it comes to our nation’s immigration policy, we should be leading with compassion and respect for the rule of law. After all, we are a nation of immigrants, a melting pot of ideas and cultures. But compassion, absent an objective path, will ultimately result in policies of callous indifference.
Failing to act is a disservice to those entering the country legally. Residents along our Southern border can attest that there is nothing compassionate about ignoring the border crisis. The daily trafficking of women and children, the mass deaths of people transported in cargo containers, and the daily terrorism of cartels, continue to grow the longer we wait.
Unfortunately, the political temperature surrounding the immigration debate has led to an impasse. We’re doing nothing to address the core problems of our immigration system. Instead, our policy has been largely reactive, coming up with short-term solutions to address specific concerns without acknowledging the fundamental issues driving the crisis.
The result is a system riddled with loopholes.
I spent two years as an LDS missionary serving recent immigrants in the Texas Rio Grande Valley. I can report that these loopholes serve neither current nor hopeful U.S. citizens. Instead, they create a perverse set of incentives for border surges, often with deadly consequences. What’s worse, these incentives often come at the expense of helpless and victimized children.
We need a compassionate solution. Which is why I’ve introduced the Stopping Border Surges Act to close loopholes in our policy and end their deadly incentives.
The first loophole is known as the Flores Settlement Agreement. The Agreement had noble intentions but unintended consequences. As written, the Agreement is incentivizing children’s exploitation. The Agreement prohibits governments from holding unaccompanied minors for more than 20 days.
The unintended consequence stems from the fact that we must also release any adult claiming to be the parent of an accompanying child within 20 days of being apprehended. The result? Non-parents are increasingly using children as a get-out-of-jail-free card at the child’s expense. These children are often “recycled” by smugglers forced to cross multiple times to ensure admission for more adults. My legislation would end this incentive by allowing the parent and child to remain together during the pendency of the immigration proceedings.
No matter their national origin, children need to be treated with the utmost care, respect, and reverence. We should take every precaution to safely return children attempting to cross the border. Currently, we return unaccompanied children from Mexico and Canada quickly and safely.
Children from other countries, however, are placed in a lengthy removal process. In the interim, we release them into the United States with the same adults that smuggled them into the country. Consequently, the policy incentivizes the enlistment of couriers to smuggle children across the border. We can end this incentive by extending the same seamless process available to children from Mexico and Canada.
Lastly, as a country, we must retain our ability to provide asylum for those seeking a safe haven. Many of the immigrants arriving at Ellis Island did so because they fled persecution. When the early Mormon pioneers moved west, they did so because of threats of violence. America has always been a beacon for those in danger and should remain that beacon for years to come.
To ensure that we provide asylum to all those who genuinely need it, we must share the burden with other like-minded countries. Further, those who do receive asylum here must meet the requisite standards. My legislation would require an asylum seeker to apply for asylum in at least one of the safe countries on their route to the United States.
A nation of immigrants needs an immigration system that is both compassionate and fair. As we work to reach the consensus necessary to tackle the most complex immigration questions, we must, at the very least, end the dangerous incentives threatening children and those fleeing violence. We owe it not only to the citizens of this country but to future citizens who will one day reap the rewards of their lawful entry into the greatest country on earth.
• Mike Lee is a United States Senator from Utah. He serves as the Ranking Member on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy, and Consumer Rights, and on the Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining. In addition, he is the Ranking Member on the Joint Economic Committee and serves on the Senate Commerce Committee as well as the Senate’s Special Committee on Aging. Prior to the Senate, he clerked for Supreme Court Justice Judge Samuel A. Alito, Jr.