Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recently took a page from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s playbook and sent asylum seekers to Martha’s Vineyard, sparking charges of fraud, cheers from the right and a hearty debate over the difference between influencing an issue and proving a point. The stunt garnered a lot of attention.
What didn’t draw nearly enough notice, though, was a new report confirming the magnitude of the problem that immigration and border security have become for Texas: Authorities have arrested more than 2 million people along the U.S. border in just the past 11 months — the largest number recorded.
Border security and our immigration protocols are broken.
This is a complex set of issues. Solutions won’t come from busing or flying migrants out of state to score points against blue cities. But other parts of the country, including communities that declare “sanctuary” policies, must confront the growing magnitude of the problem that Texas and its neighbors face.
Our first priority should be to keep Americans and Texans safe and secure. A porous border and unworkable immigration system help no one, not Americans or those eager to join them.
Next, we need rational, fair systems for allowing immigrants in, whether they’re primarily seeking work or requesting asylum.
The latter is the source of much concern over the current immigration surge. Asylum claims have typically been limited to cases of specific political, social or religious persecution. But an overwhelmed immigration system means many asylum seekers can stay for years, or indefinitely if they’re willing to bear the risk.
The inability to quickly process asylum seekers is one of the reasons President Donald Trump implemented the “Remain in Mexico” policy. The policy had flaws but pointed to an ultimate truth: Releasing huge numbers of asylum applicants into border communities or other parts of the country isn’t the answer. As of April 1, there were 470,786 affirmative asylum applications pending with the Citizenship and Immigration Services agency.
Biden has lifted the program twice (once stopped by the courts), so now, that number will only increase. We can either find ways to speed up case resolutions or get smarter about how and where to house people as they wait. Either will require a commitment of resources.
This is the point Abbott and DeSantis have sought to make. But the governors — especially DeSantis — seem to have forgotten that asylum applicants have rights and, moreover, that the U.S. has a legal obligation to enforce laws fairly and a moral duty to treat potential refugees with kindness and respect. Misleading people into traveling and putting them at risk of missing key steps in their legal process is wrong.
Abbott has bused migrants from the border to Washington, D.C., and New York to try to show the rest of the world how a border town is affected when thousands suddenly enter and need immediate food, housing, education for children and legal help. He’s making a point, and the country misses it at its own peril. This is very different from DeSantis’ stunt: He inserted himself into a migrant debate that doesn’t affect Florida at nearly the scale that it does Texas.
Let’s remember, too, that the perception of open borders or the ease of staying in the U.S. prompts some migrants to take incredible risks to travel. Many pay huge sums to smugglers, and many are exploited, assaulted and sexually violated along the way.
The number of asylum seekers is large, but we know that the overall number of migrants crossing into the U.S. illegally through Texas is even larger.
They are swimming — and sometimes drowning — in the Rio Grande. They are crossing through areas with few border patrol agents. Border Patrol agents refer to them as “got-aways,” and the Biden administration estimates nearly 400,000 have arrived here illegally between October 2020 and September 2021.
The frustrating irony is that the U.S. needs young workers. Participation in the workforce hasn’t bounced back enough since the pandemic. Long-term, the U.S. needs smarter ways to match up businesses with the kind of workers they need. That means a rational, orderly process, not a game of who can best the smugglers and nature to get across the border.
But those are complex situations that will require leaders serious about governing. It’s not enough to troll or try to express moral superiority when confronted with a tiny fraction of a problem the whole nation should be addressing as the crisis that it is.