The U.S. is stuck in neutral on immigration
Title 42, the health policy that allowed U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to quickly expel migrants who illegally entered the U.S. seeking amnesty, expired on May 11. This was replaced by Title 8, which allows CBP officials to deport undocumented migrants and charge them with crimes or banish them from seeking a visa or asylum in the U.S. for protracted periods of time. This transition in policies should highlight the importance of Congress and the Executive Branch to do their job and pass comprehensive visa and immigration laws. It should also make us address some of what I call “ironies” that were highlighted during the period Title 42 was in effect (March 2020 to May 2023), and which we are still experiencing.
The first irony was why CBP officers let so many migrants cross into the U.S. only to immediately deport them back to Mexico. From New Mexico’s border with Mexico to the coast of California, the border wall (where it currently exists) is just north of the actual border, which is treated as tierra incognita by both Mexico and the U.S. Other than where the wall is opened at ports of entry, it is a continuous barrier.
This barrier becomes more complicated starting in the El Paso, Texas, region, where the middle of the Rio Grande is the border. Because it is impractical to build a border wall in the middle of the river, the U.S. government chose to build the wall on the north side of the river, which is on U.S. soil. Now it becomes a case of migrants simply crossing the river and they are technically in the U.S.
Herein, lies another irony – Why are so many migrants allowed into the U.S. to apply for asylum in such large numbers? Because if they reach U.S. land and request asylum, by federal law, they need to be processed. The U.S. has always been a country that has accepted and welcomed (most of the time) immigrants fleeing persecution or seeking a better life. Our asylum laws were written to review and accept cases in which individuals and families are escaping violence and oppression.
Another irony is related to the rules that apply to migrants seeking asylum who have been allowed to stay in the U.S. while their asylum hearing is pending. CBP officials prefer to release migrants into the U.S. who have relatives, contacts, or agencies who can support them, so that they are not homeless or short of food and healthcare during their waiting period. Unemployed, unhoused migrants could be a recipe for disaster. Once a migrant is allowed to stay in the U.S. to wait for their hearing, most leave processing centers such as those in El Paso, and Brownsville, Texas, and travel to inland destinations in the U.S. to be with friends or relatives.
After a migrant officially and legally applies for asylum, they can expect to wait months or even years for their asylum hearing to be held. Some Americans are against migration because they think that migrants will be taking away jobs from Americans. In reality, as with most other developed nations, the U.S. has an aging population and a shrinking workforce. Coupled with this is the fact that many younger Americans no longer want jobs in which they install roofs in the summer when it is 100 degrees or work endless hours in the hospitality industry.
Many of the migrants requesting asylum, who would gladly do back-breaking work, are people who walked through the jungles of the dangerous Darien Gap in Central America, and traveled months just to get to the U.S. border. I am fairly certain that most of them would give their all in a new U.S. job. Furthermore, some of these migrants were professionals or had developed skills in their native countries that could bring immediate value to a U.S. company.
Other Americans have heartburn with the migrants, who they think are coming to the U.S. to receive handouts and free social services without contributing to the national economy.
At present, immigration judges have literally thousands of cases that have landed on their desks. Ironically, the U.S. has been dealing with increased flows of migrants coming to the U.S. southern border for the past 10 years and we have not drastically improved the legal infrastructure to deal with this. While waiting for their asylum hearing, migrants can apply for permission to work. However, they generally must wait 365 days after applying for asylum to be approved and are granted permission to seek employment, although there are some exceptions.
Ironically, we are receiving people who want to earn a living for their families and contribute to the economy, but we are holding them in limbo for a year until they start supporting themselves and their families. Immigrants can apply for permission to pursue an education during the waiting period. However, this could prove to be difficult if they do not have a source of income for tuition, educational materials, or living expenses – another irony.
These ironies are the result of our nation being stuck in neutral when it comes to dealing with immigration. If we continue on the path we are currently taking, we should expect even more ironies in the future.