Congress can start with some basics that could boost our economy while addressing border security
By Antonio Garza
The midterms are fast approaching. And as seems to be the case every other November, the spotlight is on immigration and the large number of migrant crossings at the U.S.-Mexico border. Once again, our country is playing defense trying to manage the border without a game plan for going forward.
It’s time for both parties to take a different approach. It’s time to stop using immigration as a political football and posturing for ballot box wins. It’s also time to start working in a bipartisan manner on solutions.
No doubt the number of migrants arriving at our border is an operational and security challenge. In the past year, irregular border crossings totaled over 2 million. These migrants left their communities for multiple reasons, including the economic crisis, fallout from natural disasters and repressive regimes in Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua.
After arriving at the border, individuals fleeing political persecution can apply for asylum. But those migrants who are simply looking to fill the demands of the U.S. labor market and to support their families have no option but to try to cross the border undetected or attempt to pass as asylum-seekers.
Border and immigration issues are complex, and there are no one-pass, Hail Mary solutions. But economists are generally in agreement that the migrants arriving at the border could be exactly what the U.S. economy needs. Experts point to the lack of workers as a cause of rising food prices and inflation in the U.S.
Last week, the Biden administration took several steps to create additional legal pathways. It doubled the number of H-2B visas for jobs in industries like seafood processing and hospitality to over 130,000.
The administration also created a new parole program that will provide Venezuelans fleeing their country with two years of work authorization. In addition, the administration has taken some modest steps to address the nearly 2 million immigration-case backlog.
However, there are limitations to policy decisions made by the White House. Executive orders issued by the last several U.S. presidents from both parties have proved to be stopgap measures, which are typically challenged in court or reversed by their successors. For example, earlier this month, a legal decision on DACA — a program created by an Obama-era executive order — once again puts the future of over 600,000 Dreamers in limbo.
Any hope of a sustainable solution must come from Congress. Yet, as we’ve seen over the last two decades, comprehensive immigration reform is unlikely to pass no matter which party controls Congress after Nov. 8. Gridlock continues even though the vast majority of Americans would like to see real and substantial immigration reform.
Congress needs to start with some basics that could boost our economy while also addressing the security challenges at our border.
The first order of business in the coming months should be to act swiftly to provide a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers who traveled to the U.S. as children. It’s not only the right thing to do, but also good for our economy. Survey data shows that one-third of DACA recipients are essential workers, and they already pay over $9 billion in taxes each year.
Second, Congress should reform and expand the guest worker visa program. The Farm Workforce Modernization Act aims to expand the H-2A farm worker visa program and provide a pathway to citizenship. This bill has already been approved by the House and now needs to be passed by the Senate.
And third, we need immediate action to reform our overburdened asylum system, where it can take years for a case to be adjudicated. Last year, members of Congress introduced the Bipartisan Border Solutions Act. This bill aims to streamline migrant processing to more quickly determine whether or not the individuals arriving have valid asylum claims, which would ease the strain on immigration courts.
While these moves will not address every aspect of immigration reform, they would move the ball in the right direction. By going on offense, we can focus enforcement resources on those seeking to do us harm through transporting drugs or human trafficking. It’s time for Congress to step up and quit punting on immigration.
Antonio Garza is currently counsel to the law firm of White & Case in Mexico City, and served as the U.S. ambassador to Mexico from 2002 through 2009. For more information, visit tonygarza.com. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.