The seemingly endless national dispute over immigration may be coming to a head. Images of children separated from their families at the U.S.’s southern border should be enough to move all parties to finally address this festering issue. President Trump was right to back off the child separation policy, yet the underlying crisis will not go away. America is like a proverbial lifeboat, with desperate people clamoring to be hauled on board. But the lifeboat has been strained nearly to the point of sinking in recent years.
Despite all the recent partisan bickering, this problem has been building for decades. Several past administrations — Republican and Democratic — have grappled unsuccessfully with the flood of illegal immigration from Central America. No matter which approach has been taken, the flow of illegals over the border hasn’t been stemmed. And every attempt to do so has been met with resistance and foot-dragging in Washington.
A little background is in order here. American law for decades has allowed detention of illegal immigrants — including families — when they are captured at our porous southern border. The millions of illegals who made it across without getting caught brought about the infamous Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, designation, a problem that has paralyzed Congress for years. These minors were brought here as young children, and are now grown and essentially assimilated into the U.S. They have never known the country of their parents, and for all intents and purposes are as Americanized as children born and raised here. Deporting them would make no sense, since the vast majority have received an education here and are productive members of American society and culture.
But on top of the DACA problem is the continuing flood of people from some of the poorest and most dangerous countries on earth. To call countries like El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras “failed states” is too kind. These lawless places never had success to fail from. They are corrupt, violent countries where the only real law is the law of the gangs. Their governments are run by thieves who steal from the people and leave them in endless suffering. These are governments that will not fix themselves, and they will continue to throw their own people away to seek refuge in America. Those captured by harried and overstretched U.S. border agents are the ones we now see huddled in detention centers.
This flood of illegal immigrants will not stop soon, or at least not as long as the hopeless situation in Central America continues. And it’s important to remember that with each wave of refugees comes a sizable number of gang members like those in the infamous MS-13, who have terrorized towns right here in Long Island and across the U.S.
So what to do? Well, as much as his critics fight and claw against it, securing our southern border, as President Trump has insisted, is in fact a must. And yes, that may include building a wall along a significant stretch of the border. But even a wall won’t stem a determined flow of illegal immigrants. Many more resources will be required, including greatly increased border surveillance, with high-tech tools such as drones, and a drastically increased border patrol force, including U.S. soldiers deployed to back up our border agents.
Before critics wring their hands and babble about how this is somehow un-American, I’d ask which is worse, a border that is more secure, or the wrenching images of illegals, young and old, crammed into detention centers after they’ve jumped the border and landed in custody here? If we can accept the clear-eyed reality that we must deter illegal immigration, “build the wall” shouldn’t just be a slogan; it should be an imperative.
This is the approach that other countries around the world have been forced to take. A flood of illegal immigrants from war-torn countries like Syria and Afghanistan has threatened to overwhelm European nations unable to absorb unlimited numbers of refugees. Europe’s walls have gone up; its welcome signs have come down. The European Union just last week proposed “regional disembarkation platforms” outside Europe in which asylum seekers would be processed and considered for immigration before they get to Europe’s borders.
The U.S. should press Mexico to implement this approach. Instead of “catch and release” of illegals, or the anguish of separated families, how about a humane, orderly process that’s fair to everyone?
Al D’Amato, a former U.S. senator from New York, is the founder of Park Strategies LLC, a public policy and business development firm. Comments about this column? ADAmato@liherald.com.