Americans crestfallen by years of gridlock and misinformation regarding immigration plus President Trump’s hamfisted, on-again/off-again border policies should find some encouragement in a rare bipartisan bill emerging from all the chaos and conflict: Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas and Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar of Laredo propose requiring the Department of Homeland Security to keep immigrant families together during court proceedings; mandating additional standards of care for families held in DHS facilities; and allowing unaccompanied children from non-contiguous countries to be voluntarily reunited with families in their home country. All these proposals are recommended by the bipartisan Homeland Security Advisory Council.
“As the number of heartbreaking stories at the border continue to grow, so do the number of apprehensions overwhelming understaffed law enforcement,” Sen. Cornyn said last week in introducing a bill that also increases the number of border patrol officers and modernizes ports of entry to hasten overall capacity to process migrants seeking asylum while facilitating legitimate trade and travel. “Border apprehensions typically increase during the late spring and early summer, so it’s critical we take action on this situation now by thoughtfully reforming our laws regarding unaccompanied children and migrants in custody.”
Fair enough, though it would be mighty helpful if lawmakers worked harder to curtail misleading rhetoric regarding this incendiary topic. No one denies a crisis simmers at our southern border — but the border, according to the mayors, police chiefs, sheriffs and county judges who live there, is not the criminal infestation of rural stretches and border towns that Trump speaks of during his fact-free campaign rallies. Rather, this crisis is clearly a humanitarian one that involves waves of undocumented immigrants, many quite obviously fleeing violence and oppression in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala and seeking safe harbor in the United States.
Yes, the number of Central Americans seeking asylum is astonishing. Border patrol agents reportedly apprehended 109,144 migrants along the U.S.-Mexico border in April, the highest monthly total since 2007. There were 189,584 apprehensions of “family units” (individuals traveling in a family) in the first six months of fiscal 2019, accounting for 53 percent of apprehensions. While these numbers remain below historical highs, there’s no denying it’s a wake-up call for our nation. But to effect policy legally (rather than through the unconstitutional means our impulsive president pursues), lawmakers must earnestly work together on bills such as that put forward by Cornyn and Cuellar, one that Cornyn says offers “far greater impact than anything that’s been proposed by the administration.” Let’s hope this is a sure step toward comprehensive immigration reform with the understanding by all that successful lawmaking requires that both sides not only gain something in the bargain but concede something as well. Otherwise, the crisis will remain one of American leadership above all else.