It’s not surprising that immigration reform was declared dead once again last month by U.S. House Republicans. It’s even less surprising that we’re left with weeks like this one.
In Texas, President Barack Obama is meeting with state and local officials Wednesday as the White House requests $3.7 billion in emergency funds to confront an influx of unaccompanied minors from Central America. In Charlotte, meanwhile, officials are facing criticism for contemplating a municipal ID to help undocumented immigrants already here.
The common thread: Both fixes are good ideas, and neither will repair a broken immigration system held hostage by hard-line conservatives.
That paralysis is felt most urgently right now in the Rio Grande Valley, where tens of thousands of Central American minors have been caught trying to cross the border. Many have come believing that they’ll be given a chance to stay in America if they ask for protection granted by a 2008 human trafficking law. At the least, that law offers them a hearing and counsel, which could buy them a year or two in the U.S.
The president faces the delicate task of protecting these children from sex trafficking and related abuses while discouraging other children from risky and fruitless border crossings. To that end, the White House hopes to use the emergency funds for more immigration judges, Health and Human Services personnel and border agents to speed up the hearing and deportation process. It’s not the solution immigration advocates want, but it’s the best way to calm the immediate border crisis.
Meanwhile, Charlotte officials are also considering measures that would keep immigrants safer. A municipal ID program is in the conceptual stage right now, but other cities with similar programs allow immigrants to use the ID to enter public buildings, file police reports and even open bank accounts. The latter two offer clear safety benefits to an immigrant population that is often an easy target for thieves.
Immigrants with IDs also might feel freer to visit doctors or clinics, potentially heading off public health threats. But critics of the ID chafe at the thought of assimilating undocumented immigrants, and at least one anti-immigration reform group – Legal Immigration PAC – says it will fight Charlotte’s ID proposal.
The anti-reform crowd believes in the fantasy that if America simply enforced existing immigration laws, we could magically expel the 11 million undocumented immigrants already here. Moderates in Congress know better, but Republicans in conservative U.S. House districts continue to block any efforts at practical reform.
That leaves us, however, in a perpetual state of border crisis, and with cities and states trying to accommodate and control growing immigrant populations. It’s an uneven, unfair and often inhumane system, and most Americans have come around to the need for something better. Someday, maybe, Washington will, too.
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