How bad has the situation at the border become? CBS News has begun pointing out that a flood of thousands of refugees across a border isn’t just a humanitarian crisis, it’s a potential national-security crisis, too. On top of that, even Democrats are now openly criticizing the lack of preparedness and enforcement from the Obama administration on the border — or at least one Texas Democrat:
While lawmakers harp over potential military action to stem escalating sectarian bloodletting at the hands of an al Qaeda-inspired insurgency movement in Iraq and Syria, another issue on the national security front has surfaced after lurking for years in the bowels of U.S. foreign policy concerns: the staggering influx of undocumented minors at the U.S.-Mexico line.
Indeed, experts agree, Central Americans who are deluging the southern border with tens of thousands of their children are breeding not only a humanitarian crisis, but a serious national security threat to the United States.
“We should certainly consider this surge of drugs and weapons and, now, these kids, to be a national security issue,” W. Ralph Basham – U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) commissioner from 2006 to 2009 and now a founding partner of the Command Consulting Group – told CBS News.
Basham echoed recent comments from Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly, the head of the U.S. Southern Command who’s headed to Guatemala this week with Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to talk to officials about the issue. Kelly argued that in the grand scheme of protecting the U.S. border, the resources allocated him have been unrealistically inadequate to curb the flow of migrants out of Central American countries like Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, where amid thriving crime and poverty, a growing number of parents have dispatched their children to the United States in a blind shot at a better future.
“In comparison to other global threats, the near collapse of societies in the hemisphere with the associated drug and [undocumented immigrant] flow are frequently viewed to be of low importance,” Kelly told Defense One over the weekend.
“Many argue these threats are not existential and do not challenge our national security; I disagree.”
Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) told CNN’s Candy Crowley that the Obama administration should have seen this coming “a long time ago,” in response to Crowley’s question about the extra $2 billion Barack Obama requested to deal with the crisis:
John Fund says this should be “a slap in the face” to both political parties, even as Obama declines to visit the border himself during an upcoming visit to Texas:
White House spokesman Josh Earnest bizarrely says that people criticizing Obama’s failure to visit the border would “rather play politics than actually try to address some of these challenges.” The president, it seems, will “lead from behind” once again. All this has been too much for Representative Henry Cuellar, a Democrat who represents the border city of Laredo. “They should have seen this coming a long time ago . . . because we saw those numbers increasing,” he said today on CNN’s State of the Union. Cuellar admitted that our current system creates perverse incentives. “There is an incentive that if you bring your child over here, or you’re a child by yourself, you’re going to be let go. And that’s exactly what’s happening,” he said. “Our immigration courts are so backlogged. There’s not enough detention spaces. . . . This is the incentive we have to take away.” As for Obama’s pledge to send more personnel to the border, Cuellar didn’t sound confident: “I think he’s still one step behind. They knew this was happening a year ago. . . . and they are not reacting fast enough at this time.”
The crisis at the border should serve as a slap in the face to people in both parties who have been unable to come up with a border solution for the last decade. On the one hand, Democrats’ insistence that any reform must be “comprehensive” and include a path to citizenship ignores the fact that for most migrants, becoming a citizen is not a first-tier priority. The Pew Research Center found last year that of the 5.4 million Mexican immigrants who reside legally in the U.S. today, only 36 percent have chosen to become citizens. Safety, the ability to visit family and friends in Mexico and return, and being able to live openly in society are far more important to immigrants. For their part, many Republicans who insist on an enforcement-only approach ignore the evidence that the 45-year-old “War on Drugs” has done little to stem drug trafficking on the border despite an increase of more than 50 percent in Border Patrol funding over the last six years.
Border Patrol agents I spoke with were reluctant to be quoted on the record, but all agreed that a comprehensive solution that combines better border enforcement (which entails less-political enforcement) with a well-designed guest-worker program is necessary if we wish to make real progress.
If anything, this latest crisis shows the need to strengthen border security effectively as a separate effort before addressing normalization of the resident aliens living illegally in the US already. It’s been nine years since the 9/11 Commission highlighted the national-security implications of the ineffective security at the southern border, and Congress has yet to act. Republicans for the most part have taken a borders-first approach, even agreeing to comprehensive reform as long as verifiable border security comes first before any other steps get taken. Obama and Democrats have insisted that the border is already secure and Republicans have just been scaremongering in order to delay comprehensive reform.
This crisis shows beyond doubt that Republicans have been correct, and that Congress needs to act before the situation truly becomes “existential,” as General Kelly warns.