Anyone who has seen the Donald Sutherland movie or the Alan Alda television series “M*A*S*H” knows about triage. Triage is the medical procedure that determines which wounds are most critical, needing immediate attention, and which can wait without jeopardizing the patient when doctors are faced with a spate of injuries. As a country, we should apply triage to the immigration and border security issues currently on debate. Like in medicine, some immigration issues are critical and others can be put on the back-burner.
The first and easiest remedy is repelling the oft repeated misconception that there are Democrats supporting open borders. This is simply not true. There is not one elected official and not one Democratic spokesperson who is an advocate for open borders. Not one. Protecting borders is a priority, so first we must triage the ways our border security is being breached and begin to react to the most critical.
If our triage is based strictly on numbers, the greatest immigration problem is people entering the country legally and simply staying. When their visas expire, they do not go back to their countries, choosing to remain here illegally. If the U.S. could upgrade and modernize its system of tracking visas handed out to workers, students, visitors, and the like, we could eliminate over half of the people here illegally.
U.S. employers entice migrant workers to come here for jobs, which are often seasonal. The undocumented workers come to work and find the trek arduous. So, when the seasonal work is over, they stay and dive into shadows instead of going back and risking capture trying to reenter during the next growing season.
If U.S. employers could rely on a pre-vetted cache of Mexican and Central American workers who are identified, profiled, cleared for work, and subsequently placed on a roster for seasonal hire, that known commodity could easily be tracked; evaluated; and with good behavior, cleared for reentry work visas the next season. It is clear that U.S. employers want these workers due to their skill, plus citizens balking at doing the labor-intensive work.
If our triage is based on criminal activity, we should invest in technology and infrastructure at ports of entry. Most of the drug traffic comes across the border hidden in cars, trucks, and ships that enter through customs check-points. The next largest amount of drugs comes through the mail. Fentanyl, the active ingredient in opiates, is mainly a product of China. The least volume of drugs entering the United States comes on foot at the southern border, and most of that comes via tunnels dug under border barriers. So far there isn’t one drug or undocumented person issue that can be solved by more border wall. We have about 700 miles of wall in places where it has been determined to benefit our security. Any more is simply a waste. If we want to sell some concrete and create construction jobs, mix up a batch and pour it into the plethora of tunnels border security officers are finding.
Criminal action in the form of terrorist attacks and gang activity are perhaps the scariest issue to triage. The problem here is that there hasn’t been any foreign terrorist attack in the U.S. since 2001. We’ve had terrorist activity, but it all has been perpetrated by citizens who have been radicalized or extreme theorists carrying out violence in the name of their politics. Border patrol officers are skilled at stopping people who are known or even thought to be known for nefarious activity. 41 were stopped at our northern border and six at the southern border in the last six months. Foreigners here both legally and illegally are far less likely to commit a crime of any kind than a citizen. Our triage efforts on violence should focus on terrorists, criminals, and gang members who are home-grown as the most critical action.
If our triage is based on humanitarian issues there is plenty to evaluate. The most pressing is the cache of possibly 15,000 children who have been separated from their families currently being held as caged captives in our country. The trauma perpetrated on these children is immeasurable and can only be resolved by reunification of families and a complete abandonment of taking apart families coming across our border.
The second humanitarian issue is the asylum seekers. Those are the legally sanctioned people coming from dangerous, gang-infested, war-torn Central American countries trying to save their own lives. We need an influx of lawyers, judges, and support personnel to flood the southern border to process those applicants and relieve the log-jam that is partially due to the large numbers currently needing assistance and partially due to a massively ill-conceived, Nationalist-inspired notion that we don’t want or need these brown skinned people in our country.
Our triage menu is full. There is a lot about immigration we need to fix, including the DACA youth who deserve stability in their lives. But, there is not one item in the top 100 list of needed immigration related issues–political, legal, humanitarian, safety, or employment–that can be solved with one more foot of the metaphor for racism, designed only to replace what torn down Confederate statues and battle flags symbolized, that is a border wall.
We are honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this week, so I’ll finish with his thought about border walls: “For here, on either side of the wall, are God’s children. And, no manmade barrier can obliterate that fact.”
Terry Donnelly is a retired teacher. He taught in public schools in Kentucky, Michigan, and Colorado. He was an adjunct faculty member instructing teachers and teacher trainees at Michigan State University, University of Colorado, and Adams State College in Colorado.