If one has even a passing familiarity with the news of the day or the utterances of politicians, particularly members of the Texas Republican party, you have heard that the southern border is in “crisis.” What one considers a crisis is debatable, but it is true that record numbers of people are showing up at the southern border. The problem, however, is not with people showing up at the border but rather with the plans being offered to fix this problem.
Plans purporting to “secure” the southern border of the United States, like those proposed by legislators representing San Antonio, are often extreme and would channel millions of dollars into militarizing the border. But the premise that the border needs to be “secure” is flawed, and we should instead focus on fixing the asylum process.
U.S. Rep. Chip Roy’s Border Safety and Security Act of 2022 has four planks: complete physical border infrastructure, fix border enforcement policies, enforce our laws in the interior, and target cartels and criminal organizations. The plan has already received withering criticism from a range of critics including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, pro-immigration interest groups and immigration services organizations, and even members of Roy’s own party.
U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales has criticized the Border Safety and Security Act as too extreme, saying that the bill “proposes a total shutdown at our border to all migrants — leaving no exception for people in legitimate life-or-death situations.” Though the bill would not ban all asylum claims, Gonzales rightly highlights the extreme nature of Roy’s bill. However, his own bill, the Security First Act, again takes the wrong approach to “securing” the southern border by channeling millions more dollars into militarizing the border.
What we really need is to fix the asylum process. As El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego noted in his recent testimony before Congress, “there is no open border in El Paso, immigrants seeking asylum largely present themselves to Border Patrol for processing.” Samaniego acknowledges there is a substantial number of people showing up at the southern border, but the vast majority of them are seeking asylum in the U.S. So, to fix this “border crisis” we need to fix the asylum process — and not by making it more difficult, which Roy’s bill would do, but by making it more humane and just.
As a scholar of the asylum process, I recognize the problems with the system and therefore the first plank of my border plan is to reenergize and reform the asylum process. This would start with ending policies that deter and fail to respect the rights of asylum seekers such as Title 42. Additionally, it would require reforming the grounds for asylum by allowing those fleeing persecution from gangs to be covered. Furthermore, it would provide significantly more funding, training and a substantial increase to the number of asylum officers who conduct the affirmative asylum process. This would be paid for by shifting the substantial amount of money used to militarize the border to bolster the asylum process.
My second plank is to make it much easier to immigrate to the U.S. Currently, there are four legal pathways to immigrate to the U.S.: asylum/refugee status, ties to family, ties to an employer, and the visa lottery. However, visas are capped and no country can receive more than 7% of the family-based or employment-based visas in a year. My plan would be to simply do away with visa caps. They serve no purpose except creating ridiculously long backlogs for people from certain countries to get visas. For example, it can take decades for people from the Philippines and Mexico to get a family unification visa to the U.S. It stands to reason that if one is concerned about illegal immigration to the U.S. the best way to solve that problem is to make it much easier to immigrate legally.
Finally, the third plank of my border plan seeks to repair the damage of decades of harsh bipartisan border militarization policies that have damaged an untold number of lives, not to mention the natural environment. This involves taking down every last inch of the current wall on the southern border and replacing it with a series of peace parks. The border peace park plan is not a new idea. In fact. it goes all the way back to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and peace parks already exist on our northern border with Canada. The southern border region is an ecological marvel, and not only would a series of peace parks preserve that status, but it would go a long way toward repairing the damage done to the people of the borderlands over the last few decades of border policies.
My plan proposed here does not treat the folks seeking asylum in the U.S. as the source of the crisis of the southern border, but rather the militarization of borders and the broken asylum system as the problem. People seek asylum because they are fleeing “a well-founded fear of persecution.” Border walls and more border patrol agents won’t change that, but a more overall welcoming immigration system would represent the best of American values.