Immigration reality

Houston Chronicle, Editorial Boards

Visa ‘overstays’ are a big hole in border security net, which wall wouldn’t address.

With President Donald J. Trump floundering about in a mysterious Russian stew of his own making, ingredients still unrecognized, it’s important for his fellow Americans to keep their eye on other concoctions temporarily on the backburner as the Russian dish boils over. The list is long – everything from the decimation of health care in this country to mendacious meddling in the Middle East – but the issue of particular concern to Texans must continue to be immigration, immigration enforcement and border security.

Trump’s “big, beautiful wall,” which he promises to get to once he finishes remaking health care, reforming the American tax system and wrangling a federal budget through Congress, should be seen by now for what it is: a colossal waste of taxpayers’ money, an unsightly insult to our southern neighbor, an affront to property rights along the border and an environmental tragedy. Trump’s wall is also absurdly impractical, an opinion underscored by a new study from the Center for Migration Studies.

According to the study, two-thirds of those who arrived in this country without documents in 2014 did not illegally wade the Rio Grande or trudge in the company of a coyote into New Mexico, Arizona or California. Most flew into the country, were admitted, after screening, on non-immigrant (temporary) visas and then overstayed their period of admission or otherwise violated the terms of their visas. That trend continues, the study found.

In 2014, about 4.5 million U.S. residents, or 42 percent of the total undocumented population, were overstays. They accounted for about two-thirds (66 percent) of those who arrived in 2014. They have exceeded so-called “entries without inspection” (EWIs) every year since 2007, and 600,000 more overstays than EWIs have arrived since 2007.

Trump and hard-line Attorney General Jeff Sessions – on the Russian hot seat himself this week – are insisting not only on a $22 billion wall but also are pushing for drastic increases in Border Patrol personnel – men and women assigned to deal with a diminishing problem. The Center for Migration Studies document points out that Border Patrol apprehensions these days are roughly one-fourth the level of historic highs. Illegal entries are roughly one-tenth the 2005 level, according to an internal Department of Homeland Security study. And still we’re throwing border-enforcement personnel into the breach. Still, Trump pushes for a wall.

The study underscores, yet again, that this administration is profoundly unserious when it comes to border security and immigration reform. And yet Trump and his minions in the Justice Department can do – in fact, are doing – serious damage to our communities when they carry out cruel immigration raids and continue to push for a border wall. (Echoes from Austin, particularly Gov. Greg Abbott’s “sanctuary cities” absurdity, aren’t helping either.)

A state with a long tradition of cross-border ties and connections, a state that thrives on trade with Mexico, must resist. Just as California and its West Coast neighbors are resisting Trump’s climate-denial ignorance by implementing forward-thinking policies of their own, so too must Texans maintain our ties to immigrant communities, to war-torn families desperate for refuge and to towns and cities just across the border whose fate has long been tied to our own.

Resistance takes the form of Houston City Council support for a lawsuit against Senate Bill 4, the so-called sanctuary cities bill. It means urging lawmakers to get serious about a fair and workable E-verify system, among many other measures that reflect immigration reality, not stiff-necked ideology.

There will come a time when the duplicity of the man in the White House is so blindingly obvious that lawmakers serious about governing and voters concerned about this nation’s well-being will simply ignore his bloviations. Until that day comes, creative and principled resistance is the only true response.

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