Today’s debate over immigration has devolved into overly simplistic catchphrases, like “build the wall” and radical proposals such as the elimination of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
The flood of illegals into the country and the dramatic increase in those seeking asylum have created chaos at the border, overwhelming security forces and the agencies responsible for processing and housing people.
No doubt many Americans are conflicted—troubled by stories of untenable conditions at holding facilities and families being separated, but also concerned about masses of people entering the country illegally and the dysfunctional asylum system.
It’s proving difficult to get Republicans and Democrats to agree on a solution because, among other things, immigration is a significant campaign issue. Republicans can talk tough about border security, while casting Democrats as supporters of lawless open borders. Democrats can rally their base by painting Republicans as heartless and bigoted.
All of this pointless flailing, as well as the tumult at the border, could have been avoided had Congress passed the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013.
This comprehensive bill was crafted by the “Gang of Eight,” a bi-partisan group of Senators. The bill addressed all aspects of the immigration process, from border security and enforcement to providing a pathway to legal status for the more than 11 million people currently living in the shadows.
Some of the key provisions included:
–$46 billion for border enforcement. The money would have paid for more Border Patrol agents, at least 700 miles of fencing, increased electronic and mobile border surveillance, and additional prosecutors and judges.
–A new immigration status known as “Registered Provisional Immigrant.” Individuals who entered the country illegally but had not been in serious trouble with the law could pass a background check and pay assessed taxes, then enter a pathway toward permanent residency. After 13 years, if all requirements were met, the individual could become a citizen.
–DREAMers, those who entered the country illegally as children under 16, could become legal citizens in five years.
–Significant changes to the merit-based visa allocation and H1-B guest worker visa program that would have allowed more people with skills in demand to enter the country to work.
–A requirement that certain enforcement measures had to be met before the favorable immigration provisions, including the pathway to citizenship, could be utilized.
The Senate passed the bill on June 27, 2013. All 52 Democrats, including Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), both Independents and 14 Republicans voted for the bill. However, it stalled in the House, where the Republican leadership refused to take up the bill.
Whenever Manchin is asked about immigration or border security, he always brings up that 2013 bill, and for good reason. Once upon a time, not all that long ago, there really was a bipartisan solution to this complex and emotional issue.