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I’m an Arizona native and an immigration attorney who has spent the past four years representing migrants at the border. With my front row seat, I am disturbed by the narrative of fear that drives how many Americans understand our border challenges. Yes, the situation is complicated. How can it be that the border has been shut to asylum seekers since March 2020 due to a pandemic-era regulatory measure, but border apprehensions are on the rise? Why do we accuse President Biden of opening the border, when the administration has affirmed and even expanded significant Trump-era policies?

The fact is, we’ll never understand the border—let alone hope to fix it—without elevating pragmatic, collaborative, and well-funded solutions. Let’s move past the fearmongering with a path forward that acknowledges the reality of migration, the humanity of migrants, and our moral duty as Americans to provide safe harbor.

In addition to working in migrant shelters on both sides of the border and in Arizona detention centers, I am now the Director of the Immigration Justice Campaign at the American Immigration Council, and have a unique opportunity to look at the big picture. First, it’s important to understand why people migrate here. There are more people on the move around the world than at any point throughout recorded history. They're fleeing everything from political, racial and religious persecution, to economic hopelessness and the organized crime groups that step in when states fail. Regardless of whether these individuals ultimately receive asylum, complicated motivations and genuine fear have led them to our doorstep.

Because of this, any border policy framework based only on deterring migration is doomed to fail. Just look at Title 42, a Trump-initiated policy that sought to shut the border. Though initially opposed, Biden has stood by the policy, expelling even more migrants under Title 42 than Trump and recently expanding the policy to include Venezuelans. Despite mass expulsions, the number of people encountered at the southern border continues to rise.


The reality is that building a dam at the border has created a lake. I’ll be the first to acknowledge how turbulent those waters are. Organized crime groups have found new ways to target migrants, profiting from human smuggling, kidnapping, rape, and extortion. With little access to ports of entry, people now take dangerous routes through the desert and across rivers to pursue their right to seek asylum here. All of this has undermined orderly processing at ports, has cost the government billions of dollars, and created a logistical nightmare for Border Patrol.

If we want to restore order and ensure the safety of everyone involved, we must re-establish access to asylum. That starts with collaboration between states, counties, municipalities, and the federal government. It’s neither fair nor practical for border states to do this work alone. But spending millions on political stunts to fly migrants to so-called liberal strongholds is an expensive misstep. Instead of playing with people’s lives, we should support those seeking the protection they are due under U.S. law—and help states absorb people as they wait for their court dates.

We can start to pay for this plan by making better use of the resources we already have. In 2022, the federal government allocated over $24 billion to Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs Border Protection combined. Currently, a lot of this money is used to project a show of force. Anyone who regularly drives near the border sees scores of Border Patrol vehicles on the highway and Border Patrol agents sitting at the checkpoints. It’s unclear what all of these agents are doing, especially when the majority of drug seizures occur at ports of entry and often involve U.S. Citizens. Instead, let’s place our agents a where they’re needed most—helping to facilitate an efficient, safe, and humane processing system at ports of entry. This would disincentivize migrants from taking riskier routes through the desert out of desperation.

Further, we should rethink the allocation of funds once migrants arrive on American soil. The billions we pay to private prisons to detain migrants has led to widespread abuse and has subjected the government to expensive legal actions. We could save millions by keeping people out of these prisons and instead invest in the legal services organizations, nonprofits, and communities that welcome migrants. Research shows that access to counsel helps ensure compliance with immigration proceedings.


Migrants themselves are not a threat to American society. We must stop treating them that way. This is true for politicians using the migrant crisis as voter bait, for the media who use migrants for clicks, and for on-the-ground law enforcement who publicly fan the flames of fear. DHS leadership has a critical role to play in shaping the narrative and culture within its own ranks. The agency must call on its officers to stop politicizing migration – especially in public forums. And when officers violate migrants’ legal rights or commit abuses, they must be held accountable.


From my home near the border, I have watched these failures arc across administrations and party lines. It’s not too late to turn things around with solutions that do right by Americans and by migrants. Migration is part of the nation’s history and will continue to be. With push factors proliferating – political upheaval, war, organized crime, and climate disaster – it is unrealistic to think migration will just stop. Instead of a system that prioritizes exclusion, we need a system that seeks just outcomes. How we meet this moment is up to us.