Columnist Jim Sharpe’s take on the migrant caravan from Central America.
That giant caravan of Central Americans that crossed over into Mexico from Guatemala last month, headed for the U.S., got me thinking about the American dream, our policy toward the hemisphere’s most downtrodden, who should become Americans, the safety of current Americans and, most importantly, how changing demographics may scream out for a change in our immigration policies.
I may not have the right answers, but I do have a wrong question: When you first heard this thousands-strong mass of people referred to as a caravan, did you imagine the formerly ubiquitous mode of ’80s family transportation, the Dodge Caravan? (Raises hand sheepishly.)
I call myself a 9/11 border hawk. Before September 11, 2001, I was a little milquetoast-y on immigration. After all, I wouldn’t exist if America were closed off. My father was given the opportunity to leave his native Jamaica to study in the U.S. and met my mom at Michigan State University. But that awful day in 2001 hardened my belief that we need a secure border and immigration system – while still being fair.
I know some people are thinking, “Jim! 9/11 wasn’t perpetrated by dishwashers, maids and landscapers who snuck across our border out of financial desperation!” True. But why wouldn’t bad guys try to exploit our lax border policy? They already exploited our lax airport screening. And liberals have argued that they’ve exploited our lax gun laws.
Either way, I think I can state with complete confidence that the Democrats are responsible for this mess of a border policy we have. After all, they had sole control of the presidency and Congress and were unable to achieve a consensus about immigration.
Not so fast, elephant breath! Before Republicans start feeling all self-satisfied, they need to remember that they, too, had sole control of the executive branch and Congress and…
Didn’t. Fix. Squat.
Before you mix up my 9/11 border hawkishness with Trump’s brand, I’d like to point out that I believe that a lightly regulated flow of labor across a border is economically healthy. A realistic, seasonally flexible guest-worker program would help reduce illegal immigration because workers could travel home to family without fear of not being able to return to the thing that feeds their family.
Something else would help stem immigration, too: doing away with the notion that everybody who makes it to America needs to have a path to citizenship, and access to the social safety net. I’m not saying admission to America should cost as much as Disneyland. (Isn’t it $4,000 a day now?) But folks should be expected to do at least as much paperwork as it takes to get a mortgage. And they should be willing to wait as long for an answer.
But all this requires compromise, and that’s something we don’t seem very good at. Republicans’ corporate contributors won’t like losing cheap, illegal labor. And Democrats won’t like losing future voters.
Ultimately, we may simply be forced to change our immigration system because of raw numbers and changing demographics. As of press time, the United States Border Patrol’s Yuma Sector was on pace to see a doubling of the number of people crossing the border year-over-year. And a large portion want to be caught because they are seeking asylum.
Henry Lucero, Phoenix’s field office director for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), recently told KTAR’s Martha Maurer that there are two more big differences from years past. The folks his office is dealing with are primarily families, and they are mostly from Guatemala. 98 percent of them are released into the U.S. while their asylum claims are processed. ICE can’t – legally or practically – hold them for more than 20 days. Many never show up for their hearing.
The image of the young, Mexican male jumping a border fence and running from Border Patrol may be fading faster than Scottsdale’s cowboy image did.
Our immigration policy has to change. And a wall probably isn’t the answer anymore. But if we can’t convince the president of that fact, maybe he can at least start saying he’s going to make Guatemala pay for it.
Problem is, it’s much harder to spell “Guatemala” on a Trump rally sign, and Guatemala has even less money than Mexico.
Jim Sharpe is the host of Arizona’s Morning News on KTAR-FM 92.3 (weekdays 5-9 a.m.). Visit ktar.com to find more information about his on-air work.