At the risk of opining above my pay grade, and in view of the announcement that national guard units from other states are en route to help secure the Texas border, I am proposing a solution to the migrant situation.
Before you write me off as completely unqualified, I note that I spent several years in Mexico and Central America, studying the history of each country, writing about current events and visiting with field hands and presidents and a lot of people in between.
My proposal is to make things better, easier and less dangerous for migrants while greatly reducing the illegal influx at our southern border.
Let’s begin with what is not going to work, and that includes ideas expressed by Vice President Kamala Harris in her recent visit here. She said she went to Central America to study what can be done to help Central American countries improve conditions so their people won’t want to leave. There isn’t enough money in the U.S. to cure what ails them. So, good luck with that.
Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras are dirt poor countries historically governed by people who sooner or later empower their cronies and enrich themselves while brutally squashing dissent. It is happening today in Nicaragua, more than three decades after the last dictator, Anastasio Somoza, was overthrown. (He liked wife Ellie and knew us well enough to call her the “Mexican Rose,” but I digress.)
Daniel Ortega, who came to power initially as a socialist on a wave of opposition to Somoza, is landing hard on dissenters and has become Nicaragua’s latest dictator. “Son of Somoza” read a recent New York Times headline. The situation never seems to get better and, frankly, it hasn’t changed a lot for many people in those countries in 500 years.
Then there’s “The Wall” solution and now the influx of national guard. Border barriers, border guards, walls, fences and rivers make illegal transit more difficult and dangerous. Barriers do reduce illegal crossings and reduce the burden on those policing the border, but they will never be 100% effective. I am reminded of the escapes memorialized in the museum at Checkpoint Charlie in the former West Berlin. During the Communist years the East Germans, and they were better and more ruthless at this than we are, did everything they could to stop people from crossing the wall to West Berlin. Still they managed to come, braving walls, barbed wire, land mines and auto firing machine guns.
So, you ask, what solution can I offer? Here goes:
At a fixed and widely publicized date, the United States should stop accepting asylum seekers at the border. After that the only way to apply for asylum, and regular visas for that matter, is to approach designated U.S. missions in their home countries. To accommodate the influx, the State Department must stand up and appropriately staff new departments capable of accepting and processing applications timely. These new departments should be equipped with application takers who can refer appropriate cases to investigators. These could be local hires working under supervision of U.S. officials. You can drive to most population centers in Central America in a few hours; so, they should be able to provide a first-hand read on an applicant’s situation.
Ideally these new departments would be staffed by an immigration judge or magistrate capable of conducting hearings with the applicant, reviewing investigation results and deciding whether the claims have merit. I suppose these hearing could be done via Zoom, as some immigration cases were being heard before COVID. But much better to have a qualified judge on the scene, able to interact with and evaluate the applicant in person.
To be sure there will be cases where terrified individuals present in immediate danger. U.S. authorities need to have the means to provide some protection – like safe houses – in special cases. But only when their threat is truly credible. This new approach needs to be widely publicized in each country. Embassy press attaches are more than capable of getting the word out.
Most asylum seekers are coming for economic reasons. And as it is now, most will be turned down once they finally get a hearing in the United States. Far better for the U.S. to approve or reject their asylum claims in their home country before making a perilous journey north.
Mexico, of course, will require missions other than in the capital. As it is now, or was before COVID, migrants looking for U.S. visas had to travel from all over the federal republic to make their case at the American consulate in Juárez. We need to remove this operation from the border. Placing these new departments in Torreon, Guadalajara and maybe Oaxaca in addition to Mexico City makes a lot more sense than having the only U.S. facility in Mexico within sight of the United States.
We will still have illegal border crossers, of course, trying to game the system. My thought on this is these people should immediately be remanded to Mexican authorities and securely bused back to their home countries.
To make this work, the U.S. needs to take a big step here at home: make E-Verify mandatory and fine employers who hire people not eligible to work. E-Verify, of course, is the U.S. government site that enables an employer to check an applicant’s eligibility to work.
Use of this site is voluntary for businesses. For companies that don’t use E-Verify, there is a list of 20 acceptable documents in the I-9 employment packet when an applicant does not have a passport or other U.S. government issued document. In that case, among documents that satisfy the requirement could be a driver’s license and Social Security card. Some of the acceptable documents on the list can be easily faked, but they now serve to get the employer off the hook for knowingly hiring someone not authorized to work here.
So how are we going to pay for this? For starters there will be a tremendous savings in not having to house and care for migrants on the border, and in chasing them down once they come across clandestinely. Then there are savings on expenses for housing and providing medical care for crossers, not to mention mercy flights. Eventually this program should result in fewer federal agents needed for policing the border and, we should be able to cut down on barrier expenses. Once word gets out that migrants cannot work illegally in the United States, and that undocumented crossers seeking asylum at the border will be returned home immediately, many of the border problems will evaporate – better for migrants, better for their kids and better for us.
Your thoughts and comments are invited and welcome.