Editorial: Graham's plan would ease border crisis

The Detroit News

Sen. Lindsey Graham is taking another stab at launching comprehensive immigration reform with a sensible proposal that starts with addressing head-on the crisis at the southern border. It's a good blueprint, even if has slim chance of getting through a hopelessly divided Congress.

Sen. Lindsey Graham speaks during a press conference at the U.S. Capitol on December 20, 2018 in Washington, DC. “The president needs to go to Afghanistan,” Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told reporters at the Capitol Friday. “He hasn’t visited our troops, and he needs to do that.”

The South Carolina Republican focuses on curbing the unchecked wave of refugees from Central America by making it more difficult for them to claim asylum, and to enter the United States before their claims are processed.

Graham, who in 2013 was part of the failed Gang of Eight effort to pass an overarching immigration reform bill, would allow the Department of Homeland Security to immediately send back unaccompanied children from Central America who show up at the border.

The current crisis has been exacerbated by a large number of children who either attempt to enter the country on their own, or are abandoned in the U.S. by adults who have used them to exploit the special considerations given to families.

Graham's plan would also add 500 federal immigration judges to adjudicate claims faster and avoid the current practice of issuing asylum-seekers a future hearing date and releasing them into the country. Most never show up in court. Those who arrive at the border asking for asylum could be held up to 100 days, instead of the current 20, giving U.S. officials more time to determine the legitimacy of their claims.  

The most significant reform would require that asylum-seekers apply for refugee status based on credible fear at processing centers in their home countries.

The reforms would help ease what has become a humanitarian disaster at the southern border, where authorities are overwhelmed by the arrival of large caravans from Central America and detention centers are overflowing.

Border Patrol arrested nearly 100,000 people in April, the most in any single month since 2007, and 2019 is on a pace toward 1 million arrests, unless policies change.

Democrats have been reluctant to accept President Donald Trump's depiction of this as a national emergency, but the numbers strongly support his claim.

Graham's bill could slow the flow and prevent such a large number of undocumented individuals from entering the country.

Just as important, it could lay the groundwork for a comprehensive plan, something Graham's fellow Republicans have been loathe to pursue.

Democrats may object to Graham's crackdown on Central American refugees, but if the proposal was ultimately tied to legal status for the so-called Dreamers, those who were illegally brought into the country as children by their parents, and an expansion of legal immigration, it could sell. That is, if Republicans are convinced it significantly reduces illegal entries.

The Trump administration is working on a proposal to switch to a merit-based immigration system, with a higher priority given to those with an education and marketable skills.

But the United States now has more job openings than it does job seekers. Workers are needed at all skill levels, including manual labor. The economy risks stalling if the workforce doesn't expand. Orderly, legal immigration is a proven source of moving new workers into jobs.

Immigration has bedeviled Washington policymakers for decades. The chaos on the southern border should signal it's time to stop playing politics and come to a compromise on a sensible and sweeping solution.