We can fix im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem If we can land a probe on Mars, we can solve the border stale­mate

Tulsa World - - Opinion - BY U.S. SEN. JAMES LANK­FORD

Launched on May 5, the NASA In­Sight probe trav­eled more than 300 mil­lion miles and touched down safely on Mars — a truly re­mark­able achieve­ment. Amer­i­cans fig­ured out how to travel 300 mil­lion miles and land a probe on an­other planet within seven months, but Congress has not been able to land our im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy in 20 years.

On Nov. 29, I spoke on the Se­nate floor for the 10th time in three years to dis­cuss im­mi­gra­tion. Early in 2018, the Se­nate ne­go­ti­ated for weeks to find com­mon ground on im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy in the U.S. Un­for­tu­nately, those agree­ments failed. Since then, In­Sight trav­eled 300 mil­lion miles, but the Se­nate is still stuck. Our na­tional de­bate at best has ig­nored what is re­ally hap­pen­ing at our border, and at worst we have en­cour­aged hu­man smug­gling of chil­dren.

Two months ago, sev­eral thou­sand peo­ple in a so-called car­a­van left Hon­duras and il­le­gally crossed into Gu­atemala, where hun­dreds of them were de­ported by the Gu­atemalan gov­ern­ment, but many oth­ers trav­eled on. Then, the group ap­proached the border be­tween Gu­atemala and Mex­ico, but Mex­ico sent its law en­force­ment and mil­i­tary to the border to in­sist that the car­a­van could not cross the border il­le­gally into Mex­ico. How­ever, the car­a­van charged the bridge and over­ran Mex­i­can law en­force­ment and mil­i­tary mem­bers.

Most of the group were of­fered asy­lum by Mex­ico or they were de­ported, but hun­dreds con­tin­ued to travel through Mex­ico un­til they reached the U.S. border at San Diego. They rushed the border fence mul­ti­ple times to try to cross il­le­gally into the U.S. only a few hun­dred yards east of the San Ysidro Port of En­try, which al­lows 100,000 peo­ple to legally cross ev­ery day. All the me­dia at­ten­tion has fo­cused on a few thou­sand peo­ple try­ing to cross il­le­gally near San Diego, rather than the 100,000 peo­ple cross­ing legally right over their left shoul­ders.

U.S. Border Patrol is try­ing to process safely and ef­fi­ciently in­di­vid­u­als and fam­i­lies along a border that is very dif­fi­cult to se­cure in its cur­rent state. Ag­ing fences, long tech­nol­ogy gaps and wide open spa­ces keep the border por­ous. Just last week, one of the in­di­vid­u­als trav­el­ing with the Hon­duran car­a­van was iden­ti­fied as a con­victed mur­derer and gang mem­ber, re­mind­ing us that not ev­ery­one try­ing to come into our coun­try is just com­ing for work. De­spite chal­lenges, our border patrol is still suc­cess­ful as they work hard, im­prove bar­ri­ers and uti­lize as much tech­nol­ogy as pos­si­ble.

Each per­son who crosses our border or waits at a border cross­ing for en­try is al­lowed to re­quest asy­lum and get a hear­ing. But be­cause of a decade-long back­log of re­quests, there are al­ready more than 800,000 peo­ple wait­ing in line for a hear­ing, most of whom are wait­ing in the U.S. In the past year, 150 new im­mi­gra­tion judges were hired to help, but the prob­lem con­tin­ues to grow.

In 2017, around 400,000 peo­ple were

Lank­ford

ar­rested il­le­gally cross­ing our south­ern border. That may seem like an in­cred­i­bly large num­ber, but to put that into per­spec­tive: 500,000 peo­ple legally cross our south­ern border ev­ery day. Mil­lions of peo­ple come to the U.S. legally each year. It can be long and dif­fi­cult, but it is pos­si­ble.

We need to make our en­try process more ef­fi­cient and we need to bet­ter se­cure our border to de­ter peo­ple who do not choose to cross legally. Both le­gal and il­le­gal en­try should have al­ready been ad­dressed by Congress, but the prob­lem con­tin­ues to grow.

I re­main very out­spo­ken that fam­ily units should stay to­gether when­ever pos­si­ble. We're Amer­i­cans. We're very pas­sion­ate about fam­i­lies. If a fam­ily unit crosses the border il­le­gally, as much as pos­si­ble, we should keep that fam­ily to­gether, in­clud­ing fam­ily de­ten­tion units. How­ever, some courts have re­quired the rapid re­lease of mi­nors but al­lowed the de­ten­tion of their par­ents. Since most Amer­i­cans also want fam­i­lies to be to­gether while they await their trial, the fam­ily is re­leased into the U.S. with a no­tice to ap­pear at a court date in the dis­tant fu­ture.

In 2017, Congress funded new 18-foot bol­lard-style “open” fenc­ing, un­like the old solid sheet metal fence. Al­though the re­sults of the suc­cess of the fence have not been re­leased yet, the border agents on the ground said pre­vi­ously they had 10 cross­ings a day through the old-style, sheet metal fence. To­day, they have one il­le­gal cross­ing a month. If ver­i­fied, that is real, tan­gi­ble suc­cess. How­ever, a fence or wall is not the only so­lu­tion for border se­cu­rity. We have ex­panded our use of tech­nol­ogy (cam­eras, sen­sors, etc.) to for­tify our border se­cu­rity and em­power Border Patrol agents to do their jobs well. We also need to stop en­cour­ag­ing peo­ple to bring a child with them when they cross il­le­gally; it is ter­ri­ble for the child and for our jus­tice sys­tem.

Sadly, one un­in­tended con­se­quence is that now we have more chil­dren com­ing to our border and an in­creas­ing num­ber of young adults claim­ing to be 17 years old. Over the past sev­eral years, scores of young men from South­east Asia and other re­gions have trav­eled to South and Cen­tral Amer­ica to con­nect with smug­glers who move them to the U.S. for work. Our Cus­toms and Border Patrol agents re­port that in­creas­ingly these young men claim to be 17 to gain ac­cess to the U.S. as “un­ac­com­pa­nied mi­nors.”

A re­cent Wash­ing­ton Post ar­ti­cle, “For Cen­tral Amer­i­cans, Chil­dren Open a Path to the US — And Bring a Dis­count,” de­tails the ter­ri­fy­ingly real busi­ness of child smug­gling from Cen­tral Amer­ica to our south­ern border. The ar­ti­cle cites that it will cost mi­grants $10,000 if they travel to the U.S. in­di­vid­u­ally as adults, but if they bring a child with them, the adult and child can come for $4,500. Es­sen­tially, it's half price if you bring a kid be­cause it's eas­ier to get into the U.S. if you bring a child with you, any child.

Fam­i­lies are so des­per­ate in parts of Cen­tral Amer­ica to ac­cess Amer­i­can jobs that adult males of­fer to take a neigh­bor's child with them. They tell the child's par­ent that they will get a dis­count, will send cash back to the fam­ily, and try to en­roll the child in an Amer­i­can school or find some­body to take care of him or her.

As a re­sult, our south­ern border has seen a dra­matic in­crease in the num­ber of adult males ar­riv­ing with a child they're not re­lated to be­cause they get a dis­count from their hu­man smug­glers and an ex­pe­dited process to cross our border to re­quest asy­lum even though they ac­tu­ally don't qual­ify for asy­lum.

Our bro­ken im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem now en­cour­ages the hu­man traf­fick­ing of chil­dren from Cen­tral Amer­ica. The Wash­ing­ton Post story high­lighted that the process even has a nick­name in Cen­tral Amer­ica: adop­tions.

Des­per­a­tion has caused these fam­i­lies to adopt out their chil­dren, send them on the dan­ger­ous road to our border with a hu­man smug­gler and hope for the best for their child. This has to stop. We can­not con­tinue to en­cour­age hu­man traf­fick­ing by in­cen­tiviz­ing the smug­gling of chil­dren.

As we con­tinue to con­sider fund­ing and solutions for spe­cific border se­cu­rity and im­mi­gra­tion re­form, we can honor peo­ple who im­mi­grate the right way through our le­gal process and dis­cour­age traf­fick­ing. We should fix bro­ken ar­eas of the sys­tem that en­cour­age adults to bring chil­dren il­le­gally across the border be­cause they get a dis­count or faster ac­cess. We can find com­mon ground to ad­dress problems with le­gal work visas. We can all look at the facts and stop pre­tend­ing that ev­ery­thing is fine.

We truly can solve im­mi­gra­tion, but we can­not con­tinue to ig­nore the prob­lem and think it will mag­i­cally im­prove. This re­quires hon­est de­bate, not just po­lit­i­cal slo­gans and divi­sion. But, if the Mars In­Sight probe can travel 300 mil­lion miles and land on Mars, Congress should ab­so­lutely be able to sit down and re­solve im­mi­gra­tion is­sues ef­fec­tively.

James Lank­ford is the junior U.S. sen­a­tor from Ok­la­homa. This col­umn is based on a speech he gave on the floor of the Se­nate last week.

RE­BECCA BLACK­WELL/AP

A woman hold­ing a baby peers through the U.S. border fence as she tries to reach a point where mi­grants have been cross­ing Wed­nes­day in Playas de Ti­juana, Mex­ico. Dis­cour­aged by the long wait to ap­ply for asy­lum through of­fi­cial ports of en­try, many Cen­tral Amer­i­can mi­grants from re­cent car­a­vans are choos­ing to cross the U.S. border wall and hand them­selves in to border patrol agents.

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