We urge Congress to fufill President Obama’s request for nearly $4 billion to address the unprecedented crisis the United States faces on its southern border, where tens of thousands of illegal immigrants, including a wave of children never seen before, have been trying to make it into the country.
The border is the focus of the emergency, but its repercussions are or will be felt across the country, including here in Queens. Though they’re arriving illegally, most of those who get into the United States will never be deported, by the government’s own admission. They’re being dispersed all over the nation and surely many will end up here, where immigrants both legal and illegal make up a larger share of the population than just about anywhere else.
Illegal immigration drives down the wages of the working class, as unscrupulous employers find it cheaper to hire the undocumented than citizens or legal immigrants. It makes schools even more overcrowded. It drives up the market for illegal apartments, many of which get carved up into virtual boarding houses, endangering and sometimes killing firefighters when something goes wrong. It also poses a health risk because undocumented people do not undergo the screenings that legal immigrants do, which has led to the reappearance in the United States of diseases that had been eradicated here. And it imposes other, additional burdens on various social services.
While it would be impossible, and a human tragedy, to try to deport the undocumented immigrants already here, the country cannot absorb more. That’s why it’s so important that border security be drastically increased, which is what some of the $3.7 billion Obama is seeking would be used for. The Republican-led House of Representatives cannot let its distrust of the president get in the way of allocating the funding.
In addition to blocking the border, it would be wise for officials, starting with the president, to stop giving the world the impression that young undocumented aliens will not be deported. They’ve been doing that by promoting the Dream Act, and, since that failed to pass Congress, the president’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Even though new arrivals are not actually eligible for DACA, word on the street in Central America is that young people will not be sent back. It’s a terrible unintended consequence to a well-intended program designed to allow children brought here illegally by their parents to stay. Many have spent nearly their whole lives here, attending and graduating from school but then hitting brick walls because they don’t have papers.
While the sorry state of affairs in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, the home countries of most of the young people crossing the border, is also driving the crisis, there’s no denying that DACA is too. The sudden surge, from less than 10,000 young immigrants a year to more than 50,000 since last fall, makes that clear.
Reform of the entire immigration system is also necessary, and has been for years. It’s failed because Congress is divided on the issue, and Congress is divided because the American people are divided. What some call a path to citizenship for undocumented people who have been here for years others deride as amnesty. But most agree that a secure border is necessary. If there’s any good to come of the present crisis, it could be that we finally get serious about making it so.