Who Is Focused on Real Migration Solutions?

The razor wire shimmered in the heat of the summer sun.

Sami DiPasquale, executive director of Abara Frontiers, was in the back seat of the minivan. As we were driving to the Paso del Norte bridge to return to El Paso after a day visiting shelters in Ciudad Juárez, I asked him if the razor wire, a Trump-era addition to border security, will ever come down.

“No, I don’t think so,” DiPasquale said. “It seems that it’s a lot easier to build walls than to take them down once they’re in place.”

After a couple days along the border this week, to paraphrase a remarkable leader we sat with in Ciudad Juárez, decisions are taken about the border, very far from the border.

Slowly, but surely, that is changing.

When Vice President Kamala Harris visited with leaders in Mexico and Guatemala last month, and then went to the southern border, it sent a clear signal that the Biden administration is approaching border security in a different — dare I say smarter — way than previous administrations.

Core to this approach is addressing the systemic issues that lead to migration. As the vice president put it during her trip to El Paso, the causes must be addressed before the effects. Right now, the causes of migration at our southern border are the poverty, violence and corruption that drive people from Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Mexico.

Some of these problems go back decades, while others have been created or aggravated by recent natural disasters and the unprecedented toll of COVID-19. All of them create an untenable situation for local communities that will take years to reverse.

But the very fact that we have families and children making the dangerous, costly and traumatic journey to the United States should be a sign of how bad things must really be at the local level. They do not want to leave their homes. But they do.

In order to address these issues, the United States pledged $310 million in aid to Central America. Additionally, Harris negotiated investment commitments from 12 companies, including giants such as Microsoft. She also announced that the United States will send 500,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses to Guatemala to help the nation recover from the pandemic.

Perhaps the most promising result of Harris’ visit with Mexican and Guatemalan leaders is the announcement of a joint task force on smuggling and human trafficking. U.S. prosecutors can provide vital assistance and training to local law enforcement officials in the fight against corruption and drug cartels. Every leader I spoke with along the border agreed that weakening these networks is fundamental to improving the quality of life in the region and securing our border.

But Congress is not off the hook.

In addition to allocating necessary resources, Democrats and Republicans need to strengthen and expand our immigration system to provide more legal, efficient and safe ways for people to initiate the immigration process or apply for asylum from within their home country. Furthermore, bipartisan border security bills such as the Bipartisan Border Solutions Act, introduced by Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), need to make their way to the president’s desk.

Two factors increase the likelihood of success.

First, these are complicated problems that require complex, long-term solutions. Leaders of both parties must make these issues top-tier, government-wide priorities. Not merely photo ops and press releases.

Second, as I learned from leaders on the border, collaboration is key. For example, when the Biden administration lifts the Title 42 public health border restrictions that have stifled trade, tourism and immigration, it must strengthen the new partnerships in place with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Organization for Migration and other organizations on the Mexican side of the border. These relationships have allowed for a controlled unwinding of the Trump-era Migrant Protection Protocols. A template that can and should be used for the lifting of Title 42.

All of which brings us back to the razor wire.

There are few, if any, security benefits to stringing coils of razor wire along our border. Cartels are smuggling drugs, guns and money through ports of entry. And immigrants are asking for asylum as they walk up to Border Patrol agents.

Quite frankly, razor wire is an ugly political symbol, not a security measure.

The U.S.-Mexico border is a beautiful region with generations of families living on either side. And from San Diego to Brownsville, these are some of the safest communities in the nation.

Securing our border and treating migrants compassionately are not mutually exclusive goals. With the right partnerships, personnel and infrastructure, from Central America to our doorstep, controlling immigration and facilitating economic growth is within our grasp.

Ali Noorani is the president and CEO of the National Immigration Forum, author of “There Goes the Neighborhood” and host of the podcast “Only in America.”

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