Congress, Not President, Needs to Act on Immigration

Who are the “migrants” coming to our southern border? “Immigrants” is the new scare word of right-wing political extremists. “Vermin,” “rapists,” “pushers,” “invaders.” Can we think of any more dehumanizing names to call this movement of people attempting to cross our borders?

Is it a serious issue? Yes, it is. Are the evil stereotypes of the masses of people coming to the border correct? No. First of all, the migrants are people who are making a desperate and dangerous journey. They are leaving everything behind in the hope of finding physical security, or a chance for a better life for themselves and their children.

People and families don’t take huge gambles to leave democracies. They flee autocracies. El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala fueled much of the migrant convoys coming through Mexico in a desperate attempt to enter the United States. Government “death squads,” revolutionaries and gangs make life dangerous and unpredictable in those countries. The people joining the migrant convoys know the dangers of being killed, kidnapped, raped, robbed, and, while in the end, having little chance of entering the U.S. successfully. The fact that they pack up and leave their families, friends and homes behind says a lot about conditions in those countries.

For years, Cold War mentality drove U.S. foreign policy in Central America. Our diplomats were comfortable with the wealthy elites and military leadership who fought against reform. Political and economic reform was unpredictable. U.S. politicians feared any reform as an opening for the spread of socialism and communism in the western hemisphere. As result, U.S. initiatives in the area were of military and policing support for repressive regimes. The School of the Americas even taught torture techniques. The results were failed governments supported by a culture of violence. It is these dysfunctional and dangerous societies that motivated many of the migrants to move toward the only hope they could see, the USA.

Recently, Cubans, Venezuelans, and Nicaraguans have increased numbers moving to the border. These migrants are fleeing leftist dictatorships. Autocracies of the right and the left threaten any members of their society that express opposition to the ruling party, or even just accidentally coming into their crosshairs. Migrants are seeking different things. Asylum seekers apply for entrance to the U.S. based on a threat to themselves and their families’ lives. Economic migrants are pushed or pulled. “Pushed” means they feel they have no chance to make a living while in their home country, and “pulled” are those who see seek better economic opportunities in the US. Some want an interview that will grant them legal status to live in the U.S., while others, seeing little hope of that, attempt to sneak in as illegals.

The number of migrants is too large. Congress is charged with forming our immigration policy. It should not be up to executive action by a president. It is too important to our country, and our values, to allow one individual to decide this issue. It deserves a comprehensive debate and bi-partisan law, passed by Congress, and signed by the president. The law needs to deal with not only defending the border, but attempting to stop the need of people to flee their home countries. There are all kinds of people among the migrants, including many families with children. Most are Christians. That some are violent and criminals is unquestioned, and our legislation should act to prevent them from entering our country.

What should be done? How many legal migrants should be allowed in? Under what qualifications? How does the U.S. dissuade people from fleeing their homelands in the first place? How do we defend our southern border without losing our humanity and religious values? The Senate has already passed a bipartisan bill, but even, after initial enthusiasm in the House, the majority party blocked it. It is a sad fact that the issue has been taken over by demagoguery and electoral political opportunism. A nation of migrants should be able to find a compromise border policy that safeguards our citizens while providing a gateway for a reasonable number of migrants and asylum seekers to enter our country.