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Our View: 2023 the year for immigration solutions

Federal government inaction adding to misery

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s latest political stunt – free rides for migrants – may have backfired. Instead of slowing border crossings, Abbott likely incentivized migrants to cross over into Texas to catch a ride elsewhere in the United States.

The governor’s Operation Lone Star initiative has effectively spread out migrants to Democrat-led sanctuary cities, costing Texas $12.7 million so far.

We’ve seen on Christmas Eve, Abbott delivered more than 100 migrants – many in T-shirts without coats – to Vice President Kamala Harris’ residence in way-below freezing weather temperatures.

Clearly, Abbott is not coming from a humanitarian place. If he were, he would have made sure all migrants had warm coats, knew where they were heading, and noticed government agencies and nonprofits to get ready. But he didn’t.

Abbott did, though, successful call more attention to strained resources at the border. Communities there have been overwhelmed by an influx of families needing shelter, food and other support.

And it’s likely to get worse. In fiscal year 2022, encounters at the Southern border increased to 2.4 million. The 2023 fiscal year, beginning in October, has already seen more than 500,000 encounters – positioning the U.S. to exceed previous records.

Without rock-solid political will to commit to comprehensive immigration reform, we’ll get more of the same. This includes more tragedies. Remember the bodies of 53 people found inside an abandoned tractor-trailer near San Antonio in June? No water, food or air-conditioning.

Our inaction is adding to the misery.

So far, our political system has shown itself incapable of tackling the problem. But we have to start some way, somehow and it has to be now. Let 2023 be the year we make progress on immigration reform.

At the very least, our Southern border is a humanitarian crisis. We need the Biden administration and Congress to prioritize purposeful steps.

A few that have come up in recent years, but never fully, successfully implemented.

– Send more resources with skilled professionals to border communities, including to the many faith-based organizations helping migrants. Remember when National Guard troops taught school in New Mexico during COVID-19? This is the kind of action we need.

– We need a lot more asylum officers to hear and evaluate migrants’ claims. Biden did do something right when he allowed this, rather than migrants waiting for months for hearings with immigration judges. (Deploy troops here, too?)

– Enable asylum seekers to apply for work permits earlier than the current six-months wait.

Under Title 42, a public health catch, migrants can be expelled without first applying for asylum. Last week, the Supreme Court determined that Title 42 must remain in place for at least two more months.

As it is now, migrants show up at the border and turn themselves in. Not the legal pathway we have in mind.

Whatever its intentions, Title 42 didn’t reduce stress or traffic at the border. Instead, attempted border crossings increased. Many people expelled without due process turned right around and tried – again – to re-enter the U.S.

Like Abbott’s approach, Title 42 has its own unintended consequences.

Since March 2021, Harris has led the administration’s Root Causes Strategy, diplomatic efforts to address migration in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Focus on countries of origin is important. Priority on our Southern border has to be even higher.

Immigration is complicated and the U.S. is not alone in its struggles. Refugees from Syria and Ukraine and other places have inundated European countries. But we can’t come up with thoughtful solutions until we give immigration our full scope of attention.

2023 is the year to do just that.

Hands reach through the wall at the Southern border.