Whatever the final outcome of Tuesday's elections, they give me a chance to reflect on the first things that any administration and any Congress should focus on when they debate immigration (as they inevitably will).
The first (first) thing is the American people themselves. The effect of immigration on them gets lost in a national conversation that inevitably focuses — first, foremost, and usually solely — on the immigrants.
To paraphrase and summarize Barbara Jordan — the late civil-rights icon who served as the chairwoman of President Clinton's Commission on Immigration Reform before her untimely death in January 1996 — immigration must serve the interests of the American people (citizens, nationals, and legal immigrants), or our commitment to immigration itself will be destroyed.
Immigration does not exist in a bubble, and although we are a "nation of immigrants", the commitment of the American people to it as a concept should never be taken for granted. This is especially true when the laws are flagrantly violated.
Which raises a question that is never addressed: What do the American people owe to their fellow Americans? Should jobs go to American workers before they are available to foreign nationals? A job gives you more than a paycheck — it gives you a sense of purpose, of contribution, of belonging. The lack of employment opportunities — particularly for those whom the education system has failed, or who have few job options — risks unmooring members of our society from society as a whole.
The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) is focused on ensuring that jobs are available to Americans, but that is a commitment, more often than not, honored in the breach. Instead, those forgotten Americans are given subsidies and benefits, ostensibly in the hope that they will go away. But we cannot leave any American behind.
Jordan was clear on this point, stating six months before her death: "Immigrants with relatively low education and skills may compete for jobs and public services with the most vulnerable of Americans, particularly those who are unemployed or underemployed." Those "vulnerable Americans", she explained, were "inner city youth, racial and ethnic minorities, and recent immigrants who have not yet adjusted to life in the U.S."
The second first thing is the border. Whether you accept President Trump's statements on "the wall" at face value or not, serious criminals, drugs, and other contraband are smuggled across an undefended border, and those smugglers specialize in identifying the weaknesses.
And those weaknesses are legion. There are roughly 20,000 Border Patrol agents, most of whom are assigned to the Southwest border. That border — through which most (but by no means all) of those criminals, drugs, and contraband flows — is about 1,954 miles long.
As I have explained, those agents work 50-hour weeks. You do the math, and you will see that there are nowhere near enough of them to do their jobs unless they have the infrastructure — lights, cameras, roads, and yes, barriers — to help them do so.
The third first thing is the migrants who cross that border. Many, if not the vast majority, are coming to seek better economic opportunities for themselves and a better life for their children. They are drawn by weaknesses at that border, and in our laws, that encourage them to seek illegal entry.
And they are encouraged to do so by smugglers, many of whom are in league with (or at least beholden to) transnational criminal organizations like cartels. They are, as I have stated many times before, "bad people". Want proof? On October 24, Border Patrol agents in Hidalgo, Texas, found a 13-year-old Honduran boy caring for his seven-month-old sibling. Smugglers had rafted them across the Rio Grande.
Or, more broadly, how about this? As the White House explained in October 2018: "More than two-thirds of those making the journey north become victims of violence along the way, according to a report by Doctors Without Borders. Nearly one-third of women are sexually assaulted along the journey according to that same report." Don't trust the White House? Read the report referenced.
Those smugglers prey on the hopes of the migrants they themselves recruited to make the trip, and then betray that trust when they can, as I explained in a July 2018 post.
Migrant children suffer the most, as a bipartisan panel explained in an April 2019 report:
Migrant children are traumatized during their journey to and into the U.S. The journey from Central America through Mexico to remote regions of the U.S. border is a dangerous one for the children involved, as well as for their parent. There are credible reports that female parents of minor children have been raped, that many migrants are robbed, and that they and their child are held hostage and extorted for money.
The fourth, related thing is our national sovereignty and security. The National Security Council (NSC) has stated:
The vast majority of people who are assisted in illegally entering the United States and other countries are smuggled, rather than trafficked. International human smuggling networks are linked to other transnational crimes including drug trafficking and the corruption of government officials. They can move criminals, fugitives, terrorists, and trafficking victims, as well as economic migrants. They undermine the sovereignty of nations and often endanger the lives of those being smuggled.
You may respond that the NSC works for the president, so of course they would parrot Trump's talking points. But those words were written by President Obama's NSC. This is not a partisan issue.
The fifth first thing is the exploitation of the humanitarian benefits that our country provides. As I recently explained: "Almost 1.15 million aliens in the United States are seeking asylum — enough to make them the 43rd largest state." The number is actually now closer to 1.3 million, but most of them will never receive asylum in this country, but also never leave.
That suggests that there is a huge level of fraud in the asylum process, as I have explained previously. Such fraud betrays our nation's humanitarian generosity, undermines our national sovereignty, and perhaps worst of all, delays the adjudication of good asylum claims.
Those claimants with valid claims have a right to settle in this country, with our protection, and safe from the threats they have fled. And to petition to bring their loved ones out of harm's way, too. None of that happens until their cases can be adjudicated, but bogus asylum cases can bottle that process up for years.
How much fraud is there in the asylum process? I don't know — in fact no one knows. But, the government can find out, by forensically examining the cases that have been granted. USCIS tried that years ago, but that process was shut down (likely because the indicators of fraud were so high). That effort should be renewed, because it will give our decision-makers real facts to use in dealing with the problem.
The last first thing (and I could go on) is alien crime. Most aliens are not criminals (as I have explained previously, no one really knows how many aliens commit crimes), at least in the commonly thought of sense of the term.
But the one thing we can know with certainty is that alien criminals commit crimes. According to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study in March 2011, "criminal aliens had an average of 7 arrests, 65 percent were arrested at least once for an immigration offense, and about 50 percent were arrested at least once for a drug offense."
Sanctuary jurisdictions simply abet that crime by barring ICE access to those aliens, and to information about those aliens. Why?
Usually the answer is something like "to protect the immigrant community". But most alien crime is targeted at that community, so it is the immigrants themselves who suffer the most.
We need a national policy —which includes states, cities, and other municipalities — to address the issue. Unless there is a strong movement in this country for more crime — which I strongly doubt. Note that ICE — which has been savagely attacked, particularly under the Trump administration — removed exactly 85,958 aliens from the interior of the United States last year — 91 percent of whom had criminal convictions or pending criminal charges.
That is 85,958 out of an estimated 10.5 million aliens illegally present in the United States (as of 2017, according to the Pew Research Center) — or just slightly over eight-tenths of 1 percent of aliens illegally present in this country. ICE is not, as a matter of policy, going after the mother and child. They are going after the drunk driver and the murderer. They should be assisted in that effort, for the good of all, but especially of the immigrant community writ large.
Those are just a few things to keep in mind as the federal government is reconfigured after Tuesday. But they are the first things for this and any other administration and Congress.