On Christmas Day, another child died in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Control.
Eight-year-old Felipe Alonzo-Gomez and 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin both died under similar circumstances within days of each other after crossing the border with their fathers who were fleeing violence and poverty in Guatemala and seeking asylum in the U.S.
We do not yet know exactly what happened. Undoubtedly, details will continue to emerge about these tragic and untimely deaths. And, of course, there will be talk of blame. But here’s the hard truth — we are all to blame.
Our immigration system is completely broken, and it’s our fault, all of us — regular citizens as well as our elected representatives. For years now, Americans from across the political spectrum have been calling for immigration reform, and yet nothing of substance has happened. It’s easy to blame it on a gridlocked and ineffectual Congress, and this is certainly part of it, but we the people must shoulder our part of the responsibility as well.
The truth is that we have not created the political will to bring about the comprehensive immigration reform that is so desperately needed. In fact, we have proven to our elected representatives that it is to their political advantage to take extreme positions and refuse to compromise. When legislators like Sen. Jeff Flake and Congresswoman Mia Love have pushed for compromise on immigration, they have been ostracized by their own party. As voters, we have both punished our politicians for not toeing the perceived party line and failed to reward them for bipartisan compromise. That is on us.
So what can we do? It’s time for us as citizens to both take responsibility and come up with solutions. And then we must make our will known. That’s how a representative democracy works.
It’s true that immigration is a complex issue with many points of philosophical and practical debate. But we can figure this out. There may not be any perfect solutions, but there are workable ones. Our nation is built upon the ideal of compromise. We are one of the strongest, most resilient countries in the world. Surely we can figure out ways to improve and then enforce our immigration laws and to protect our borders without firing tear gas into crowds including children or confining nearly 15,000 children in tents for weeks on end or allowing 7-year-olds to die of thirst in the desert.
We can fix this. We must.
We currently find ourselves in a government shutdown because our president is insisting on $5 billion to build a wall. If we have $5 billion to spend, then let’s insist that Congress come up with better, more effective and more humane ways to accomplish our ultimate goal of enforcing the law and protecting our borders.
If we can surmount partisan bickering, it really isn’t that difficult to come up with some workable solutions. We could start with better training and resources for DHS officers; better, more constitutionally sound methods for collaborating with local law enforcement agencies; and by making a significant financial investment in border security measures that focus on alternative solutions. If we’re going to spend billions of dollars on border security, let’s put that money into innovative technological solutions rather than an expensive and mostly symbolic wall.
Border security measures will only go so far, however, unless we also reduce the immigration backlog and improve efficiency. Let's hire more immigration judges, DHS attorneys and asylum officers. Let's not deny anyone hearings, or hold them in detention centers indefinitely, or violate U.S. and international laws granting protections to asylum seekers. Let’s never again separate families, and certainly not without a plan for immediate and orderly reunification. Let’s invest in improving the administration of justice.15 comments on this story
These are just a few possible suggestions. The problem is not so much that our congressional representatives don’t have ideas about how to move forward, it’s that we as citizens have not created the incentive for them to follow through. But that can be fixed. People on all sides of the issue will need to make some concessions, but with a little optimism and a lot of determination, we can do this. Let’s claim our moral authority as citizens of this government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Let’s let our voices be heard through op-eds and letters to the editor, by attending town hall meetings and by calling our elected representatives every single day until this is resolved.