Torn between humane and politics. I just read a great opinion column by Jeh Charles Johnson, Secretary of Homeland Security between 2013 and 2017. And before any smirk remarks are made about a liberal on Obama’s payroll; this guy hit the nail over the proverbial head. More about Mr. Johnson later. I have given Mr. Trump’s policies plenty of leeway in the past; but I think that this time I cannot ignore the goose egg he laid.
This week in the Stars and Stripes (June 20, 2018), Jeh Charles Johnson opined and concurred that even the Obama administration had its immigration shortcomings. Taking into account the immigration hysteria, I think we need to step back a little and look at the situation through a 30 year kaleidoscope of political failures. Reagan’s Immigration and Reform Act of 1986 was supposed to curb illegal immigration. It was supposed to hold employers responsible for determining employees’ status, criminalize hiring an “illegal”, legalize seasonal employment, and legalize those who had entered the US prior to 1982. This is the abridged version. The laws are still on the books but enforcing them is as futile as chewing on water. The four million illegals soon blossomed to eleven million and the rest is history. No one can really tell us how many unregistered immigrants are currently in the US. The Act was supposed to be the perfect bipartisan solution to curb illegal entry and humanize those who had entered toward becoming productive citizens. What went wrong?
For 30 years presidents have kicked the Immigration “can” down the road to the next schmuck; leaving the next administration to solve a growing problem embedded in human tragedy and political quagmire. Immigration laws have been given a nudge and a nod; waiting it out and hoping that the next administration comes up with something new. In the meantime; employers hardly ever checked on citizenship or visas; most probably they preferred not to. No one has really ever been persecuted for hiring illegal immigrants. Farms, landscaping businesses, and private homes, took advantage of cheap labor; holding illegal status over heads as collateral. Very few came forward to be legalized because evidently (and rightly so), they were still suspicious of government authorities. Their only point of reference being the governments they had run away from. They eventually encouraged other family members to follow suit. Mostly from impoverished South American countries plagued with drug cartels, gangs, corrupt law enforcement, and corrupt governments. The chance of being caught entering illegally was far better than the life they had left behind.
But why not citizenship? Why not go through the process? Because I can attest from firsthand experience that the INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) which is now the new but not improved Homeland Security, are big on bureaucracy and short on smarts. I was a military wife for 35 years. My mother was a naturalized American, and yet the INS managed to lose my citizenship package three times. This incompetence denied me timely citizenship between military moves. They took it against me that I was travelling overseas with my active duty Air Force husband. Go figure! It was not until 2005 when President Bush expedited citizenship for military active duty and dependents stationed overseas; that I was finally naturalized! The lengthy and often incompetent procedure can easily urge someone to jump the fence and hope for the best. I am not condoning illegal entry; I am giving it a human face.
Connecting the dots from Reagan to Obama is an exercise in political boondoggle. They all gave campaign promises and none delivered. Both parties talked the talk but never really walked the walk. They did enough to appease. Enters Trump; who made it his mission in life to put America first. He was elected on the promise that he would tackle immigration and adopt a “zero tolerance” policy to deter illegal entry. But as Betty Davis so aptly put it, “we’re in for a bumpy ride”. It is not just bumpy it is “off road” dirty. I guess the misguided thought was that if we make it hard enough when they arrive, others would not even bother to try. I guess he has never heard that “if you build it they will come”! He missed the part where it is often better to take your chances at an American dream then remain in a desperate situation without recourse in sight. We are way past the point of pointing fingers because every party and its president managed to screw it up. They tried to talk it away, explain it away, and campaign it away. Yet here we are.
Jeh Johnson pointed out that the Obama administration tried similar Trumpster hard hand approach to deportations and detentions; “When illegal migration spiked in 2014, we expanded our family detention capability, a move that I freely admit was controversial (even though, unlike the Trump administration’s approach, it kept children with their parents).” He conceded that it had mixed results and although the numbers went down for a while, they rose again extensively in 2016. What gives? To answer that question one must address the situation in South America. Countries like Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador are riddled with brutal gangs who kill without remorse. It’s their pastime. The US has cut most aid to these countries leaving them at the mercy of this scum. Mexico cannot economically or politically cope with refugees or immigrants; it has its own drug and crime problem. Hostage taking is as normal as an afternoon siesta. Is there a solution?
The truth is that the US cannot sustain more illegal immigration or the lengthy and convoluted judicial processing that goes with it. Courts are already inundated at an attempt to prosecute; but there is no end in sight. Law enforcement resources are also stretched. Attempting to locate missing illegal immigrants for court appearances is an exercise in futility. What genius would think that once allowed to enter, they would appear in court willingly, knowing full well that they may be deported? That’s as dumb as it gets. Most of the kids that the mainstream media has been reporting as “missing” where children who had entered unaccompanied between 2014 and 2016. To stretch the “stupid” further; they were put on buses and sent to “sponsors”; many of whom were illegals themselves. The “sponsors” are supposed to make sure that these kids appear in court. Are we all drinking the proverbial partisan political Kool-Aid?
The US should open sustainable political relations with Mexico and its neighboring countries; they are used as passageways toward the US borders. By creating a reasonable alliance the US may not have to share the immigration burden alone. We need them. Making America great does not mean going at it alone. Religious and charity resources can also help establish dialogue in South America. Most of them already have a presence in South America. They work with local governments and NGO’s in respective communities. They can educate and assist in encouraging legal rather than illegal immigration. Most importantly: enforce the laws already on our books. Prosecute employers who employ illegal immigrants. Most of them exploit them anyway: they pay below dignified salaries and use scare tactics to deter reporting. Jeh Johnson thinks that we should resume aid to the countries where the majority of immigrants come from. Maybe by tackling poverty rather than detriment, we may improve their lives enough that they would not find a need to immigrate; legally or otherwise.
Pundits can argue back and forth, for and against, but I know that no matter where; parents will go to great lengths to save their kids and give them a better life. Who can fault any parent for doing what comes natural; protect their own? This is the time when party politics take a back seat to reasonable, sensible, moral, and ethical solutions. For once let’s not kick the can another four years down the road.
Reference: Johnson, J. C. [‘Zero-tolerance’ border policy is ineffective]. Special to the Washington Post. June 19, 2018. Stars and Stripes. June 20, 2018.