Four policy fixes to address the southern border paradigm shift

The Biden administration has asked Congress for $106 billion in additional funding for the current fiscal year for “national security priorities,” including Ukraine, Israel and the border.

Notably, the administration wants the same amount of money for border management as it does for Israel, $14 billion. The survey represents what the administration believes are our nation’s highest national security priorities.

That border management has made it onto this list of defense and foreign policy priorities highlights the crisis at our borders and the need for practical solutions to end that crisis. However, there has been a distinct lack of serious conversation among political leaders and lawmakers about how to address it. Money alone will not be enough.

A group of visiting scholars at Cornell Law School’s Immigration Law and Policy Program recently published a white paper outlining three priority areas of immigration reform that could break the partisan gridlock.

Along with proposals to address the labor shortage and the status of Dreamers, much of the paper offers solutions for the border. This acknowledges both the central role of border security in the current political landscape and the fact that this issue is in desperate need of realistic and bipartisan solutions.

The paper notes the dramatic changes that have occurred at the border in the last decade. a shift from Mexican migrants looking for work to asylum-seeking migrants from around the world, from the majority of those arrested to the vast majority of quickly deported migrants. The United States has moved immigration courts and Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain migrants in court cases to move the mass release of migrants directly from border patrol to shelters or on the streets of border towns.

These shifts mark what we believe is a new paradigm at the border that our existing immigration laws, processes, and infrastructure cannot address. Instead, we propose the following policies to reform our current border and asylum systems:

  1. Make it a priority to go after smugglers and criminal cartels who make billions of dollars off desperate migrants and encourage illegal migration.. These are not the small, unsophisticated “coyotes” of yesteryear. Transnational criminal organizations that control the drug trade in the hemisphere now see the smuggling of migrants as another line of business for their illegal enterprises. And as they did with drug and money smuggling, these cartels continue to find ways to take advantage of our inconsistent and changing border policies and processes to facilitate the arrival of large groups of migrants.
  2. Create alternatives for those seeking protection and allow decisions to be made long before migrants arrive at the border. Most migrants arriving at the border do not understand the US immigration system or what it takes to enter legally (something smugglers try to keep them from knowing). So by reaching out to migrants before they travel to the border, we can help them understand whether asylum is realistic for them or whether there are other legal ways for them to enter the United States. If we combine this with expanding refugee processing in the region and creating alternative legal pathways to work or family reunification, we can take some pressure off the border.
  3. Reform the asylum system for border arrivals to return it to its rightful place as a last resort for those in need of protection, rather than a first option for those seeking to immigrate. While some would like to see us simply stop granting asylum at the border, most Americans still believe that we can and should offer protection to those who truly need it. US and international law require us to do so as well. But the current situation has simply overwhelmed our system. We cannot offer protection to those who need it, or decide in a reasonably quick time that they do not qualify and return them. We propose creating a separate and expedited asylum process for migrants who cross the border illegally between ports of entry, while expanding and encouraging their processing at ports of entry. Combined with alternative legal channels, such as expanded refugee processing and parole in Latin American centers, these new incentives/disincentives could reduce the demand for smugglers and irregular migration to more manageable levels and return Border Patrol to its primary role of catching those who try. to avoid capture.
  4. Create a new migration policy office. Finally, given the abysmal failure of coordination among the many federal agencies and departments involved in our immigration system, which has exacerbated border problems and made it impossible to develop and implement coherent policies, we are proposing to create a new Office of Migration Policy. The White House to oversee policy and operational coordination and budget requirements for government efforts to implement all parts of our immigration system.

We understand that Congress and the White House are talking about some border changes as part of his funding package. But getting Congress to pass legislation on any immigration issue is an uphill battle. However, political sloganeering and a return to the failed strategies of the past will not solve our border security problems. We need new ideas. My co-authors and I hope that the proposals in our white paper will suggest realistic solutions.

Theresa Cardinal Brown is a distinguished immigration scholar at Cornell Law School and a senior adviser at the Bipartisan Policy Center. The views expressed here are his own.

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