As Congress adjourns for its August recess, America remains in the throes of a crisis. While most Americans relish the reprieve from the political theater on Capitol Hill, we recoil at seeing our representatives walk out in the middle of a crisis—on immigration. The lack of an enduring solution to immigration policy is tearing apart the US body-politic, impacting the lives of some of society’s most vulnerable and exhausting an overwhelmed federal workforce at the southern border.
Congress recently passed a $4.5 billion humanitarian assistance package to provide relief to the situation. But it is a Band-aid and does not address root causes. Congress must start at square one. How do we define “citizen”? What are the rights and obligations of citizens? Does the United States have the right to control the level and composition of migration of non-citizens into the country? What obligation do we have in meeting the humanitarian, economic and security needs of those beyond our borders?
In so doing, Congress must resolve differences in philosophy and tactics in four key areas: 1) Border security: resolve the issue of “walls” versus “smart technology,” the level of funding and human resource in Federal agencies, and detention policies; 2) Legal immigration: resolve differing views of immigration criteria (family affiliation versus merit based), composition (geography caps, visa types, foreign graduates of US universities), and the annual allotment of new immigrants in each category; 3) Illegals already in the United States: resolve the status of roughly 11 million people currently in the country illegally (including DACA), the issue of benefits prior to citizenship, and the path to citizenship—or return; and 4) Future illegal immigrants: legislate rules for future illegal arrivals, including a revision to the Flores Amendment and updated asylum and detention rules.
This is a tall order, but we elect our representatives to take on the tough tasks on our behalf. The president has a key role, as well. For starters, tone down the rhetoric. Second, maximize tactical support to federal employees on the border responsible for dealing with this crisis of Congressional inaction. Deploy FEMA and leverage its resources, burst response capability and supply chain expertise in addressing this humanitarian crisis. The president should commit to sign any bipartisan comprehensive immigration package that comes to his desk. President Trump can define a place in history on immigration policy just as Nixon did in opening relations with China.
How to get there? Standard congressional practice has not worked for decades; here is an alternative approach. Leaders McConnell and Pelosi should recall all members for an emergency session with the singular legislative purpose of passing comprehensive immigration reform—no other topics, no time limit. Bring in world-class mediators to support the session. No bystanders. FEMA should send 535 cots to Capitol Hill for the session.
No doubt Congress can create justification for leaving DC in August. But the American people shouldn’t accept anything less than a full-court press to resolve this crisis and national embarrassment. Our Constitution does not provide for the dissolution of Congress or national referendums to remediate Congressional dysfunction, perhaps wisely. But Americans can raise our voices and insist on better governance. The health of our body-politic and the fate of millions of the most vulnerable of society hang in the balance.
Terrence J. Daly
Falmouth Woods Road