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Political theater at the border hinders economic progress in the region

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Commentary:

On January 8, President Joe Biden visited El Paso, Texas, on his way to a North American summit in Mexico City. A few days previous to the visit, Biden announced new measures to dissuade the flows of migrants coming to the U.S.-Mexico border seeking asylum. This number of migrants has skyrocketed from hundreds to thousands per day. At the end of the federal government’s fiscal year on September 30, more than 2.3 million apprehensions were counted at the border, an all-time record.

Biden’s new measures will turn away people from the countries currently generating the most immigrants to the border, namely from Haiti, Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua. The U.S. will deny asylum to immigrants not first seeking asylum at the U.S. Embassy or consulate offices in their home country. It will begin admitting 30,000 people from the four countries per month for up to two years, which could result in up to 360,000 lawful entries.

The visit to El Paso provided Biden the opportunity to see for himself the strain that processing these throngs of people is having on border cities. He was briefed on shelters that are 100 percent full of immigrants, and the scramble for food, clothing, and medical services to care for them. Biden also had the opportunity to speak to Customs and Border Protection and Border Patrol agents who have the nearly impossible task of processing immigrants and asylum seekers at the border.

While the latest measures could reduce the flow of thousands of immigrants showing up at the southern border, they are not the solution to our country’s immigration issue - they are akin to applying a Band-aid to a gaping wound. The real solution is enacting effective immigration laws, which Congress refuses to do. This must be a bipartisan issue in which lawmakers truly want to pass laws that offer a legal pathway into the U.S. for immigrants, and will provide these people with an opportunity for the American Dream, which most of our ancestors pursued. People who have left their countries, traveled through dangerous regions, and are willing to sleep on the ground in Mexican border cities such as Juarez while they wait for an immigration hearing appointment, would seem to me to be ambitious people who can help solve labor shortages in the U.S. and take the strain off of an aging U.S. population.

However, lawmakers are unwilling to work together on immigration. This issue and the border itself have become political theater by politicians who are most interested in addressing their own political needs, rather than putting the country’s interests first. There needs to be more manpower and technology provided to Customs and Border Protection and Border Patrol agents on the border to better help them do their jobs. More immigration judges and court staff need to be put in place to quickly rule on immigration cases. Smart moves, like the recent reopening of visa and consular services in Cuba to process visa and asylum requests, need to be undertaken.

Yes, politicians need to come to the border to see the immigration situation for themselves. They also need to see how the border is a symbiotic region where the best of Mexico and the U.S. come together to produce our consumer electronics, vehicles, and medical equipment. Politicians should not show up for a photo-op by blaming another politician for creating the border crisis within a short two years. This is what Texas Governor Greg Abbott did when he met Biden at the El Paso airport with a nasty letter filled with vitriol. Immigration has been an issue long before either politician was elected to office. If anything, a meeting should have taken place between these two officials to meaningfully discuss cooperating on border issues, including immigration.

The unhoused immigrants at the border are not pawns on a chessboard, as they are being treated. They are flesh-and-blood human beings. But as Charles Dudley Warner famously said, “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” So, I guess we will continue with the absurdity of having immigrant women and children sleep on sidewalks in the winter while the immigration issue is used as leverage for political campaigns and fundraising. I guess that we will continue with the absurdity of factory and service jobs going unfilled in the U.S. because of labor shortages. Sadly, we will continue to put the U.S.’s economic health and competitiveness at stake by not accepting the best talent in the world that wants to come and work in the U.S. and be Americans. We, as citizens, need to demand that our representatives in Washington, D.C. cut out the politics and directly address this issue. This is the only way change is going to happen.

Jerry Pacheco is President of the Border Industrial Association and Executive Director of the International Business Accelerator.