By Brian Brenberg
Published June 14, 2019
Republican senators on Capitol Hill breathed a collective sigh of relief Friday night when President Trump announced that he had made a deal with Mexico, averting punitive tariffs that were slated to go into effect this week.
Both Democrats and Republicans spoke out against the president's threat to impose tariffs on Mexico unless it steps up its response to migrants traveling to the United States. But politicians’ collective opposition is hardly helpful – it’s simply evidence that they’re failing to do their jobs.
The root problem is legislative dysfunction, not in Mexico but in the U.S., that has left us with woefully inadequate immigration policy and infrastructure. Years of legislative inaction on immigration and asylum policy have led to an untenable situation at our southern border. The last-minute agreement means we temporarily averted another trade conflict, but the underlying problem remains. If Congress wants to protect our relationship and trade with Mexico, it should get to work on urgent needs at the border, starting with asylum policy.
The evidence of our failed asylum laws is overwhelming, and the women and men who are attempting to use inadequate resources to enforce broken policy are overwhelmed. Apprehensions at the border are on pace to double last year’s already high numbers, and the backlog of cases that need to be heard by immigration judges is over 800,000. Standards for seeking asylum and policies dealing with family migration that were supposed to regulate an orderly and just immigration and asylum process have become an invitation to break the law.
The real losers from all of this high-stakes bargaining will be the American people, who expect their representatives to tackle problems before they become self-inflicted crises.
Even as the situation grows worse by the month, Congress refuses to act. Many on the left won’t acknowledge, or continue to downplay, what’s happening at the border. They’re recklessly wrong, but at least they’re honest that they just don’t care about the rule of law.
Some "moderate" Democrats, on the other hand, have been forced to concede that things are out of control. But they mask their unwillingness to act by refusing to pursue any policy that doesn’t offer a comprehensive fix to our immigration system.
Their rhetoric sounds responsible, but it’s really just a way to dodge taking steps that could actually improve our asylum situation for fear it would give Trump a win on border security.
Republicans haven’t proven to be much help, either. Too many have spent the better part of the past few weeks complaining about the president’s threatened tariffs instead of pushing workable, immediate, meaningful improvements to the way we handle asylum claims.
These could include tightening standards on initial asylum claims to make sure help is going where it’s most needed, raising the amount of time children and families who cross the border seeking asylum can be held together, and increasing the number of immigration judges and asylum officers to work through the backlog of cases.
These are the kinds of common-sense changes that could quickly defuse a dangerous security and humanitarian situation on our border. And they would already be in place if Washington wasn’t so riddled with dysfunction and duplicity.
The president took a big risk by threatening tariffs on Mexico to expose both how urgent our border situation has become, and how negligent Congress has been in addressing it. Fortunately, we’ve dodged a bullet — this time. Congress should use the temporary reprieve to quit posturing and start doing its job. Failure to do so could translate into a big cost for U.S. businesses and consumers.
For Republicans, that means using the opportunity the president has given them to relentlessly push for immediate, consequential changes to asylum policy. For Democrats, it means dropping the pretense of "comprehensive reform" and instead showing a willingness to act where immediate improvements are possible.
If they can’t, the real losers from all of this high-stakes bargaining will be the American people, who expect their representatives to tackle problems before they become self-inflicted crises.