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Five Years After Bush’s Border Fence, Enforcement-Only Measures Are Still Not the Answer

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border fenceThis October 26th marks the fifth anniversary of President George W. Bush’s signing the law to build a 700-mile fence on the U.S.-Mexico border. Five years later the “border security first” approach has gotten us nowhere. Yet, it’s still the number one response from GOP Presidential candidates when asked about immigration.

During the GOP Presidential debate at the Ronald Reagan Library on September 7th, Telemundo reporter Jose Diaz Balart asked GOP candidates what they would do to address the 11 million undocumented people in this country. The candidates’ overwhelming response was (and continues to be) that we need to secure the border before we can have that discussion.

The truth of the matter is the border is more secure today than it has been in the past. The border security budget has increased to $17 billion a year. There are now almost 21,000 boots on the ground and border apprehensions have fallen more than 70%. Yet for the GOP presidential candidates this isn’t enough – nothing ever will be. And they keep using that as an excuse to avoid having a broader discussion and introducing a real plan that will address our broken immigration system.

In the meantime states like Alabama are passing patchwork legislation that is leading to the suffering of many families – filled with citizens, legal residents, and yes, undocumented immigrants. The idea that we can enforce our way to a reformed immigration system has lead to a civil and human rights crisis that will only get worse without federal leadership.

The solution is not to build an electrified fence, as Herman Cain so graciously put it. It’s not to make life impossible for undocumented immigrants or anyone who “looks foreign” either.

Elected officials and candidates must address immigration reform and stop using border security as an excuse to ignore other vital aspects they don’t want to deal with.  The true challenge is not border security, but to find a comprehensive solution that will reform our visa programs and offer a path to citizenship to the 11 million undocumented people that are already in this country and contributing to our economy every day.

President Bush’s 700 mile fence was not the solution then, and a border security first approach is not the solution now. Border enforcement is only part of the comprehensive plan we need to address our broken immigration system. GOP presidential candidates need to stop hiding behind this excuse and give a real answer. We need sensible, humane immigration reform and we need candidates that have the guts to talk about it. Otherwise, five years from now we’ll find ourselves still stuck in the same place.