Editorials, Opinion

Our immigration problems require humane solutions

Gov. Jim Justice and 24 other governors of (mostly red) states have signed a letter of support for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s so-called “self-defense” tactics to guard against migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. Those tactics have included, but not been limited to, lining riverbanks with layered coils of razor wire and installing a “wall” of large rotating buoys with nets underneath.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently decreed U.S. Border Patrol Agents may cut through the razor wire, since it can hinder their ability to do their jobs. Abbott has seemingly accepted the letter of the law, though not the spirit: Under his guidance, new razor wire continues to be installed on the Rio Grande’s Texas shores. Unfortunately, the buoys and nets — which may be responsible for at least one migrant’s death — also remain in place.

Most of us can agree the U.S.’s immigration system has flaws that must be addressed. But at some point, we stopped agreeing that immigrants should be treated like fellow humans. Some even started advocating for and implementing inhumane measures.

The Washington Post interviewed a young Venezuelan couple trapped in the shallow waters of the Rio Grande at Eagle Pass, Texas. Behind them was Mexico — where they’d been chased by criminals and forced to flee into the water. In front of them was the razor wire that kept them from the safety of land. They were terrified to go to the legal crossing, because they feared Mexican authorities would push them into the hands of criminal organizations; but they couldn’t exit the river on the Texas side, even though soldiers had been watching them pace along the riverbank for two days. “It was never my plan to cross illegally,” the young man told reporters.

As this couple shows us, immigrants who come to our border are fleeing things far scarier and more dangerous than even Abbott’s inhumane ploys. They, and most other immigrants seeking to cross the border, are not criminals or drug smugglers. They are people, just like us, who are desperate for a better life. As long as that remains the case, they will continue to come.

The solution is not to build bigger walls, or station more soldiers with more guns, or put up more razor wire. The solution is to repair the broken pieces of our legal immigration system and streamline the aspects that do work.

President Biden and some members of Congress have tried to focus efforts on increasing resources to clear asylum backlogs and process legal entries, but any initiative to address the border requires funding — and funding can only come from Congress.

Congressional Republicans have backed Biden into agreeing to measures some Democrats won’t support, like accepting fewer asylum claims, denying asylum to those who cross illegally and increasing deportations. But even that hasn’t been enough for Republican hardliners. Now, House Speaker Mike Johnson is, ironically, calling on Biden to use more executive orders to stem immigration and demanding he re-implement illegal Trump polices that had been blocked by the courts.

Some Republican lawmakers and candidates — including Donald Trump — have said the quiet part out loud: They won’t pass any kind of immigration reform, especially not this year, because then they wouldn’t be able to campaign on “border crisis” outrage. As long as anti-immigrant sentiment can be used as campaign fodder, the politicians who rely on it to rile their base will never work on actionable, humane solutions.