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USA Today Editorial: “Getting To 100% Border Security Sounds Good Only On The Campaign Trail”

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GOP Contenders Talk Walls and Fences While Majority of Americans Want Common-Sense Comprehensive Reform

Leading GOP candidates – and political journalists covering them – would be wise to read the just-published USA Today editorial entitled, “Lost immigration lesson: Getting to 100% border security sounds good only on the campaign trail.”  It takes down the myths behind the soundbites and calls for policies that actually solve the immigration riddle.

The opinion piece begins by recalling the 2012 GOP autopsy report and its call for the Republican Party to get right on comprehensive immigration reform and with Latino voters.  After summarizing the positions of the leading GOP presidential candidates regarding a path to citizenship or legal status, the editorial lays out the facts:

“No matter where candidates stand on legal status or citizenship, though, they agree with Trump’s fixation on locking down the border first. The evidence indicates, however, that the border is hardly as porous as the political rhetoric suggests.

Getting into the USA from Mexico isn’t nearly as easy as it used to be. The number of Border Patrol agents has quintupled, from about 4,000 in 1993 to just shy of 21,000 last year. Spending on border security agencies now exceeds what the federal government spends on all other major law enforcement agencies (FBI, DEA, the Secret Service, etc.) combined, according to the Migration Policy Institute. There are now more than 650 miles of fence along the nearly 2,000-mile-long border.

Net migration from Mexico stopped after 2007, according to Census figures, thanks to a combination of better security and the weak U.S. job market. Captures of illegal border crossers in the Southwest, considered a rough metric for how many people are trying to get across, have been below 500,000 for each of the past five years. That’s down from a peak of 1.6 million apprehensions in 2000 and the lowest level in four decades.

Getting to 100% border security sounds good on the campaign trail, but any realistic analysis shows that’s unattainable. Even the Berlin Wall — which was about 25 miles long, and where East German soldiers enforced security by shooting and killing would-be border crossers — was breached thousands of times during its 28-year existence.

Yes, U.S. immigration law must have meaning, and any path to legality or citizenship must be coupled with further tightening of the border and measures inside the country, particularly in employment verification and dealing with people who overstay their visas.

But insisting on absolute security on the border with Mexico before doing anything else is a way of saying you’ll never do anything else. Candidates who insist on an enforcement-only approach aren’t doing their country or their party any favors.”

In response, Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, had this to say:

“In the GOP race, the new normal is to talk about walls, fences and border security above all else.  In the reality-based world, there’s a recognition that the border has never been more secure, and the way to dramatically reduce illegal immigration is to enact comprehensive immigration reform.

In a political campaign dominated by Donald Trump, the main answer is a 14th century wall.  In the real world of objective analysis and serious policy, the answer is a 21st century reform package with three interlocking elements: 1) enforcement at the border, the workplace, our airports and our seaports; 2) a path to legal status and eventual citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrant settled in America; and 3) reforms to our legal immigration system that widen channels so that workers and family members seeking admission go through the system rather than around it.

In the GOP contest, it’s a race to stupid.  In the world of realistic problem-solving, the challenge is to transform a system that represses immigration ineffectively into one that regulates immigration intelligently.

The American people, including Republican voters, are way out in front of the GOP candidates on all this.  By a 4-1 margin Americans support policies that give undocumented immigrants a chance to work and live legally in the United States, with Republicans favoring such an approach by a 2-1 margin.  The nation is ready for reform.

Meanwhile, the GOP contenders are so focused on walls, fences and pandering to the nativists in the GOP base that they are missing the big picture – where useful facts, workable solutions and public support are to be found.”