By Sen. Mike Rounds
The crisis at our southern border shows no signs of slowing down, as the number of individuals attempting to cross our border illegally continues at a rapid pace. In May of this year, border patrol agents made 132,887 apprehensions. That is three times more than the same month in 2018, and nine times more than the same month in 2017. This has overwhelmed our system as our border patrol agents are overburdened and detention facilities are growing more crowded every day by individuals who have illegally crossed our border. The result has been both a border security crisis and a humanitarian crisis along our southern border.
How did we get here in the first place? Our broken immigration policy is primarily to blame. Central Americans, living in countries without the opportunities and freedoms we have in the U.S., want to come here for a better, more prosperous life. Due to our generous asylum laws, word has spread among citizens in Central America that if they can reach our soil, they can claim asylum and stay in the United States until their court hearing, in which a decision is made whether their asylum claim is legitimate. Because immigration judges are overwhelmed with backlogged cases, the court date is often years away. According to the administration, 90 percent of the asylum seekers fail to show up to their court date. There is currently a backlog of more than 875,000 immigration cases.
Asylum is meant to provide a safe haven for individuals fleeing persecution. It should be a last resort for those sincerely fearing for their lives — not be used as a free ticket into the United States for those who would simply prefer to live in our country. Under current law, those who want to live in the U.S. should go through the legal immigration process instead of falsely claiming asylum to get across the border, and those who want to legitimately claim asylum should do so at the ports of entry at our southern border.
President Trump’s administration has recently taken steps to help stem the flow of illegal immigrants by issuing an interim rule that changes the process for those seeking asylum. Under the rule, migrants who enter through our southern border will be ineligible for asylum unless they apply for and are denied asylum in one of the countries they traveled through first.
It’s not often that I agree with the New York Times, but a recent editorial declared that “The United States needs an immigration policy that combines border security, justice and humanity.” I couldn’t agree more. The status quo fails to protect our borders, fails to address the humanitarian crisis and fails to uphold legal immigration which is meant to meet our country’s needs. The administration’s rule is a good start, as is the border supplemental bill passed in June that provides $4.59 billion in additional funding to help improve the situation at the border. Additionally, the administration authorized the deployment of more troops to the border, for a total force of 6,600 who are tasked with providing support to Customs and Border Patrol. But these are only temporary patches and they don’t address the entire problem.
Congress must take action if we are ever to find a long-term solution to strengthen our borders, fix the humanitarian crisis and make certain our legal immigration system is merit-based so we can adequately meet our workforce needs. We must do better, and I continue to stand ready to work with my colleagues — on both sides of the aisle — to fix the crisis once and for all.