Publisher’s note: Krish O’Mara Vignarajah is the President and CEO of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. She was previously a senior adviser at the State Department and director of policy in the Barack Obama administration. The opinions expressed in this article belong solely to its author.
(CNN) — The nation was shocked after the discovery of 53 migrants dead in an abandoned trailer about 150 miles north of the US border with Mexico last week, with more than a dozen survivors, including four children, taken to nearby hospitals for treatment. fight for their lives. It was a shocking and horrifying scene, unimaginable to most Americans, who simply cannot fathom the desperation of those embarking on such a treacherous journey.
But those who have closely followed border policy in recent years likely saw the tragedy for what it was: another horrific and preventable loss of life fueled by our nation’s failure to establish a humane asylum system or efficient immigration framework. .
When there are no other options, people take desperate measures to protect their families from the gang violence, persecution, climate disaster and extreme poverty that plague Central America. And thanks to draconian and flawed policies, there is simply no way to apply for asylum in this country, a fundamental human right enshrined in national and international law.
These failed deterrence tactics include the “Remain in Mexico” program, which has forced tens of thousands of asylum seekers to wait for court hearings in extremely dangerous conditions, 1,500 of which they have been the object of murders, rapes, torture, kidnappings and other violent acts. And while that policy narrowly prevented the Supreme Court from keeping it in place, in a tight 5-4 decision last week, clearing the way for the Joe Biden administration to end it once and for all, the policy of Title 42 border removal remains in effect, denying those seeking protection either an interview or a court hearing.
The cause and effect are obvious, and yet after such a devastating loss of life, political leaders have been quick to play the blame game. The Biden Administration stressed in the fatal role played by cartel smugglers who exploit vulnerable people in search of safety and opportunity.
On the other hand, opponents of immigration, as Texas Governor Greg Abbott, wasted no time in blaming the tragedy on what he wrongly describes as President Biden’s “open border” policies. This, despite the fact that the border is more closed than at any other time in its history: a fact highlighted by the two million migrant removals under Title 42an immigration enforcement mechanism issued by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in March 2020, falsely disguised as a public health measure.
The logic of this argument is far removed from any sense of reality. If there really were “open borders”, then why would so many people risk their lives to cross undetected?
However, pointing fingers misses the obvious fact that this tragedy, just the last of many, can be attributed to structural flaws in our country’s approach to immigration. It is the result of three decades of inaction to address a deeply dysfunctional system: one that favors militarized law enforcement over human life itself.
This status quo of almost 30 years of deterrence against desperate people is too deadly to keep. Fortunately, there are feasible solutions that honor our moral and legal obligations to those seeking safety, strengthen our economy, and deprive criminal cartel smugglers of the opportunity to exploit vulnerable children and families.
First, the Biden administration should urgently restore and reimagine an asylum system that suffered gradual death. under his predecessor. A safe, humane, and orderly immigration system would disrupt the smugglers’ primary business model by offering desperate asylum seekers a viable, life-saving alternative.
But political leaders can also reduce the overall number of people arriving at our southern border by creating real pathways that require no risk to vulnerable populations and no reward to criminal coyotes. One of those ways is United States Refugee Admissions Programwhich admits and resettles refugees whose applications are processed while the applicant remains abroad, avoiding the need to undertake the dangerous journey to the United States.
The Biden administration should immediately increase processing abroad and expand it to new places where there are large groups of refugees in protracted situations, such as in South and Central America. This would improve its dismal performance in meeting its refugee commitments. So far in the fiscal year ending September 30, the United States has only resettled 12,641 people of all nationalities, of a annual target of 125,000.
Lawmakers should also recognize the economic contributions immigrants are willing to make amid a nationwide labor shortage by increasing access to work visas, such as H-2A and H-2B visas. The fact that people all over the world envy the opportunity to make a living in the US is a strategic competitive advantage that we should take advantage of, especially in the face of a rising China with a much larger global population. These legal pathways have also been shown to reduce unauthorized migration from Mexico, according to a Cato Institute research.
Just as the Biden administration must address the factors that drive displacement, such as corruption, political instability, and economic inequality, it must also focus on climate-related displacement. Given the role that climate change plays in the alarming increase in global migration, the United States should lead by example and pioneer the creation of avenues of legal protection for those displaced by climate disasters in our hemisphere.
And just as members of Congress have recently found common ground on gun violence prevention, there are also immigration proposals that could be signed into law on a strong bipartisan basis. as long as resume From the Senate talks, there is a promising consensus around legislation to implement innovative technology at the border, and to issue more visas for health care workers and farmworkers, among other common sense reforms.
The choice is clear. Either our nation embraces the failure of a deterrence-based framework and puts in place solutions that benefit Americans and newcomers alike, or we look away from the human-made suffering in our militarized immigration regime until the next tragic loss of human life.