“A nation that cannot control its borders is not a nation.”
— Ronald Reagan
America faces two serious problems on our southwestern border. One is the overall immigration issue we’ve been debating for years. The other is the growing humanitarian crisis from thousands of unaccompanied Central American minors crossing the Texas border.
As a parent, I can’t imagine sending a child or young adult on a dangerous 1,400-mile journey from Central America through Mexico to the U.S. border. However, desperate parents have entrusted ruthless human traffickers to deliver nearly 60,000 of their children to our national doorstep since last fall.
During the journey, reports are common of physical abuse, rape and worse. What these kids endure is unthinkable. My heart goes out to these children.
The long-term immigration issue and the current humanitarian crisis are directly connected. For years, presidents and Congress have refused to secure the southwestern border and enforce our immigration laws.
More recently, President Obama has sent the message that if a child reaches American soil, even illegally, he or she will not be sent back home. Now, Time magazine reports that the president is considering some form of amnesty by executive order for nearly 5 million who are here illegally.
The violence, lack of opportunity and despair in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador are reasons enough for many to flee. And, when these fearful families see a largely open U.S. border and a permissive attitude about illegal entry, it shouldn’t surprise us that millions end up on our borders hoping for better lives.
The failure of career politicians in Washington to do their jobs has opened the floodgates of chaotic illegal immigration to America. Now, it’s our problem, and the same politicians who shirked their responsibilities wonder why this is happening.
The continuing wave of human suffering reaching our shores is hurting hard-working American taxpayers. Families are still struggling through the worst recession in 70 years. It isn’t right that America be forced to deal with and care for tens of thousands of border crossers when we sometimes can’t afford education and health care services for our own legal citizens.
Jobs for American workers should be another concern of ours.
Millions of immigrants arriving without permission compete with American workers for jobs. This has stifled wage increases for our hard-working middle class families. That’s not fair either.
The breakdown of our immigration system has become a public health, national security, financial and jobs issue. Solving it must become a national priority or it will only get worse.
The solution includes:
First, using all appropriate federal resources, including the National Guard and surveillance technology, to assist state border control personnel to follow existing law, secure our southwestern border, and stop illegal entry.
Second, sending a clear message to the originating countries that their citizens who arrive in America without following the law will be processed quickly and returned home safely to their families.
Third, imposing tough penalties for human traffickers and those who assist them.
Fourth, changing existing federal law so that Central American immigrants are able to be returned home as easily as those arriving illegally from Mexico.
Fifth, making it clear to the originating countries that U.S. foreign aid and other cooperation will be in jeopardy if those governments allow human smuggling within their borders.
Sixth, bypassing the special interests and imposing stiff penalties for U.S. employers who hire workers not having proper documentation.
America has a proud history of welcoming hard-working legal immigrants. More than 100 years ago, my French-Canadian ancestors journeyed to Maine looking for better lives and more freedom. They toiled in the mills of Lewiston, Waterville, Oakland and Fairfield, with every generation working hard to improve its lot in life.
Let’s build upon America’s rich history of legal immigration by creating a system that encourages and rewards people coming to our country the right way, and discourages those choosing to break the law.
We also need to hold the president and Congress accountable. We should insist they work together to secure our southwestern border, end the humanitarian crisis and illegal entry, and fix our broken immigration system.
This will strengthen our economy and create more opportunities for all Americans.
Bruce Poliquin is a former Maine state treasurer is a Republican candidate for Congress in the 2nd District.
(Editor’s Note: A version of this op-ed originally appeared in the Lewiston Sun Journal.)