With a confused response to the current rising surge of illegal immigration from Central America, Washington’s chronic unwillingness to control the southern border has gone from bad to worse. The prevailing indolent policy of “catch and release” of border violators has become even more acquiescent toward Central Americans, becoming a policy of “meet, greet, and accommodate.” This approach redefines the border patrol’s mission from deterrent force to “welcome wagon.”
Congress bears the blame for the enticing loopholes in the 2008 Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA). Since 2012, these gaps have triggered the surging northward flight of Central American families and unaccompanied youth. But the ease in which these entrants enter U.S. territory completely unopposed highlights the chronic failure of Washington. Our government has yet to deliver on its post-2001 commitments to harden border controls, and is reluctant to fully use existing options to block unlawful entry into the U.S.
The new leadership of the Department of Homeland Security would do well to apply strong deterrent measures, such as those used in the Border Patrol’s 1993 Operation Hold-the-Line. The strategy of saturating preferred illegal crossing areas with prominently-visible agents was an immediate success, and was also effectively applied later in the San Diego sector. Its proponents rightly concluded at that time – as the Governor of Texas now also contends – that preventing illegal entry with a show of force is far more efficient than allowing entry and then detaining and processing the intruders.
Until the border patrol can be expanded to make such strategies a permanent feature, Washington should supplement our border forces with deputized National Guardsmen and state and local police. Moreover, the additional border fences and barriers legislated in 2006 – now held up by budget and land-use objections – must be completed immediately, and those in place further strengthened. There must also be quick Congressional action to expand the use of Expedited Removal authority, which allows immigration officials to authorize deportation. (So far, Congress has explicitly denied that option for removal of entrants presumably covered by the TVPRA.)
Washington’s current plans to add more immigration judges and attorneys to “speed up deportation decisions” on the illegal entrants will likely prove futile. The dilatory culture of the immigration courts and bar abhors rapid, conclusive decisions. Repeated delays encourage apprehended aliens to skip court dates, ignore court decisions or abscond entirely. The immigration allocations proposed in the President’s $3.7 billion emergency budget appeal to Congress suggest that most of the Central American arrivals will be channeled into this time-consuming process – and that we can expect their prolonged, if not permanent, stay in the U.S.
As chronic civil strife and spiraling population growth in Central America have led to decades of surging illegal migration through Mexico, granting refugee or temporary protected status on the current wave from Central America – expected to expand to almost 150,000 in the coming year – would be a disastrous precedent. 1991’s Temporary Protected Status, a nominally temporary arrangement, has allowed hundreds of thousands of unlawful Central American and Caribbean migrants to effectively settle permanently.
U.S. leaders must stick firmly to the international principle that refugee and asylum relief is to aid those targeted specifically for persecution, not those suffering from generalized poverty and misgovernance. The U.S. should instead offer incentives to Mexico for closer cooperation in combatting alien smuggling and limiting illicit flows of people through its territory. After all, Mexico has a major stake in controlling the flow. With its own fertility falling toward replacement, natural population increase in Mexico’s southern neighbors surpasses its own by nearly 50%. The worst is yet to come: some 40% of both Honduras’ and Guatemala’s populations are under 15 years of age, and Central America’s total population is projected to rise to 75 million by 2050.
With over 80% of U.S. population growth now due to immigration – legal, illegal, and the American-born children of immigrants – we must act now. We must take action to slow, halt, and eventually reverse our population growth before it is too late. And curbing illegal entry across our southern border is essential to that process.