Trump should fix our immigration system – Not spread fear of immigrants

Plato once said that “courage is knowing what not to fear.” In announcing a crackdown Thursday on immigrants seeking asylum in the U.S., President Trump made it clear that he disagrees with Plato’s definition.

Since America’s founding, our country has been strong enough, determined enough, and courageous enough to serve as a beacon of compassion and safety to immigrants from around the world. For generations, we have prided ourselves on being a nation of immigrants.

But in his remarks Thursday to reporters at the White House, President Trump showed that he no longer thinks America is that nation.

For my part, I think we Americans are an exceptional, brave and visionary people who seek to welcome – in the words of Emma Lazarus at the base of the Statue of Liberty – “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

To meet this vision, we need not only security but compassion, so that immigration to the United States is in the best interest of Americans and our families. This is not impossible.

Unfortunately, the president is manufacturing a crisis at a time when he should be offering real solutions to improve our immigration system. As a result, a manageable situation is becoming tense.

Most dramatically, President Trump has surprised military leaders at the Pentagon by announcing there could be up to “15,000 military personnel” sent to the border. Former military and national security officials have criticized the move.

The head of the Border Patrol union has criticized previous attempts to militarize the border as ineffective and impractical. And the Border Patrol itself has been unable to justify its own desire for more agents, which currently number about 20,000.

Important to note: In fiscal year 2017, the number of apprehensions of migrants along America’s Southwest border between ports of entry was the lowest since 1971 – almost 50 years ago.

The most recent caravan of migrants from Central America – the one that seems to have the president so worried – set out from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, a city plagued by extreme violence and murder rates that are among the highest in the world.

As of yet, there is no verifiable evidence that those making the journey are, by and large, anyone other than mothers, fathers, and children fleeing violence and extreme poverty.

Mothers and fathers are doing anything they can to protect their children. That is what any mother or father would do.

As a nation, we should respond to humanitarian crises in other countries with compassion and common sense.

Threatening those fleeing poverty and violence with military action – as President Trump has done this week– is neither necessary nor practical. It is a myopic reaction to a complex issue.

And sending the U.S. military to the border fails to address the root causes that lead migrants to flee their home countries in desperate circumstances. It will not stop families from trying to come to the U.S. to escape life-or-death situations.

In addition, vague, campaign-season statements less than a week before midterm elections about changes to asylum procedures are as dangerous as they are potentially unconstitutional.

Establishing “tent cities” to detain families, as President Trump called for Thursday, is both inhumane and exorbitantly expensive. The Department of Homeland Security reports that family incarceration costs up to 60 times more than alternative close surveillance.

And alternatives such as ankle bracelets not only cost less, but are 95 percent effective when paired with case management in getting immigrants to return for court dates on their asylum requests.

And sending the U.S. military to the border fails to address the root causes that lead migrants to flee their home countries in desperate circumstances. It will not stop families from trying to come to the U.S. to escape life-or-death situations.

In addition, if we want to stop the illegal drug trade, we should invest resources in securing ports of entry, where the majority of drug smuggling takes place.

According to Shannon K. O’Neil of the Council on Foreign Relations, foreign aid to Northern Triangle countries in Central America goes to “helicopters, intelligence-gathering equipment, police training, health care, youth programs, job training, small business support, and a host of other programs to strengthen security, rule of law, and economic growth.”

Take away that foreign aid now provided by the U.S. – as President Trump has threatened – and Northern Triangle countries become less safe, more unstable and much less likely to be able to retain their populations. That means that cutting our aid to Central American countries would have the exact opposite effect President Trump wants – it would increase the number of migrants.

In the end, trapping people in terrible situations is not a sustainable policy solution.

But there is a three-part short-term solution to deal with migrants from south of our border if the president wants it:

First, devote resources to independent immigration judges who will consider claims for asylum fairly and accept or reject them quickly.

Second, increase rather than decrease U.S. foreign aid to invest in the economic and social rebuilding of Central American countries.

And third, establish in-region refugee processing centers so people are not forced to make the dangerous journey to apply for asylum.

These are practical solutions that keep Americans safe and live up to our values.

In the long run, it is past time for Republicans and Democrats in Congress and in the White House to come together and make compromises needed to enact comprehensive, practical and effective changes in our immigration laws. These changes are needed to deal with the millions of undocumented immigrants in this country today and to deal with future immigrants.

Let’s set aside the poorly developed policy approach that President Trump has unfortunately advanced. If this is all just a political strategy, the president is very likely creating a caravan of voters fleeing the GOP.

The independent and moderate voters who are going to determine the outcome of the midterm elections Tuesday want practical, compassionate solutions that keep us safe and treat families compassionately.

But every day, there is more and more evidence that troop deployments, separations of families and vitriolic words coming from the president are turning these voters away from the Republican Party.

In this case, bad policy may very well lead to bad politics.

It doesn’t have to be this way. The sensible center doesn’t need to be ignored. People fleeing violence and poverty don’t need to be scapegoated.

America is a courageous nation. As President Franklin Delano Roosevelt told the American people in 1933 during a time a real crisis – the Great Depression – “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

We know that desperate mothers, fathers, and children fleeing violence are not to be feared.