In an appearance on “Meet the Press” Sunday, Utah Sen. Mitt Romney said solutions at the southern border will take legislation, and that the president has the capacity to bring together top leaders in both parties to craft such a deal.
This is a version of something many Americans have understood for well over a decade, back at least to when George W. Bush was president and trying in vain to broker a compromise on the subject.
It’s true, of course. But in order for that to happen, both sides, as well as supporters of political parties and special interest groups, must become more interested in bridges than in wedges. That can be frustrated by the belief that wedges — maintaining stark differences between parties on key issues — are good for fundraising, and by the special-interest money pouring into campaigns. This has been true on issues as diverse as the disposition of public lands and health care reform. It is a criticism that can be leveled against each party. It is manifest every time the party in power passes legislation without any support from or compromise with the other party, or when a president enacts solutions through legally questionable executive orders.
It is especially true with immigration.
President Trump has shown little interest in building bridges. When Kirstjen Nielsen resigned as secretary of Homeland Security on Sunday, it came only a few days after the president said he wants to pursue a tougher direction on border security. That implies unilateral strategies and decisions, not legislative compromise.
The southern border is experiencing an unprecedented wave of asylum seekers, with the government claiming to have nabbed 36,000 families in February alone. In response, Trump has threatened to cut aid to El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala in an effort to spur those countries to keep their citizens from fleeing.
But there is strong evidence many of these people are fleeing some of the most dangerous areas in the world, where violence, murder and extortion are normal parts of life.
The United States is a signator to the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention, called in response to the humanitarian crises of World War II, especially the Holocaust. As a result, federal law was enacted granting asylum to anyone from a troublespot who could demonstrate his or her life or freedom would be endangered by remaining at home. That is an important law that recognizes the unique role of the United States as a refuge for persecuted people worldwide.
But the current situation has exacerbated the nation’s border infrastructure. Many asylum seekers are released into the nation’s interior pending a resolution of their claims, which sometimes can take years.
Congress and the president could solve this by dedicating greater resources to the area, allowing cases to be heard quicker, and by building facilities that could safely hold families. They could pass immigration reform laws that provide worker visas to other migrants who come to fill jobs necessary to the U.S. economy.44 comments on this story
In other words, they could build bridges of compromise that begin to solve the problem while securing the border and, most importantly, treating refugee families with dignity and humanity.
After last November’s election, large majorities of Americans told pollsters from the Pew Research Center that they expected both Democrats and the president would be unable to pass legislation in the near future, given political divisions in the House and Senate. Only 9 percent said they expected relations between the parties to get better.
This does not have to be the case. With so much at stake, the American people should be clamoring for greater cooperation, and for real solutions.