Message from our Chairman
The issue of immigration and border security is more complex than the political debate in Washington and on cable television would lead the public to believe. It is also easier and far less costly to solve than many of the plans introduced by leading politicians and pundits.
The current reality on the Texas-Mexican border as well as much of the border outside of Texas is that the flow of immigrants who illegally enter the United States has declined dramatically in recent decades, from 1.6 million to about 400,000. Today, the border is still faced with an illegal entry problem from individuals, mostly from Central America, coming to the United States in the hope of participating in the American dream. These economic migrants are basically law-abiding people who are seeking work because their country of origin has not given them a chance to succeed even at the basic level of feeding their families.
While immigration is a national obsession, there’s a much greater and more real threat to American prosperity and national security. The United States is now at around 1.9 births per female, well below replacement level. And with 10,000 baby boomers retiring every day, the demographic outlook is bleak.
Without population growth and the prospect of new workers, economic growth is just not likely. Future GDP growth above 2 percent on a sustained basis will be an enormous challenge in the face of the demographic winter that will have a huge impact on the world over the next several decades.
We need an immigration policy that addresses America’s need for workers. We need about 600,000 to 650,000 low-skilled workers every year to keep our economy growing. We do not produce that type of worker in America. In fact, the largest part of the workforce is now the millennial generation. This group of workers is not committed to low-skilled work, so where are we going to get people to do basic, so-called “dirty jobs”?
We better wake up and understand the need to reform our immigration policy in America or we will continue to starve this country’s economy because of the lack of human capital to do the basic work required in a growing economy. This should be a fact-based discussion with the political and emotional elements being pushed aside for the sake of reason.
In addition to fact-based immigration reform, there are two things the U.S. Border Patrol seeks along the Texas-Mexico Border: visibility of the river and access to the river. Both can be easily achieved simply by cleaning up the riverbank along the Rio Grande. The salt cedar and Carrizo cane are invasive plants that are not native to Texas. Their density becomes a hiding place for immigrants and criminals who illegally enter the United States.
Once these invasive plants have been eradicated, an all-weather river road should be built to provide U.S. Border Patrol Agents access to patrol the riverbank. Encouraging Mexico to eradicate the plants on their side as well would create a large buffer zone that discourages immigrants and criminals from crossing.
A new open zone with a clean field of view can be further enhanced with modern technology, including motion detectors, cameras and infrared sensors. This enhanced natural buffer zone is a far more effective barrier to entry than any man-made barrier and also represents a good-neighbor solution.
This approach is a faster, cheaper and more effective way to patrol and control the river and allow Border Patrol Agents to do what they do best – protect the border. Under the Secure Fence Act of 2006, some border fencing was installed on the Rio Grande that gave Americans a false sense of security. Only when we can provide the Border Patrol with unimpeded access can we expect to see real results.
Yes, more can be done to smartly and cost effectively improve border security. However, the reward for enhancing apprehension is only as good as the legal process supporting it, otherwise the process only becomes a catch and release program. Today, with the rapid decline in illegal immigration, the problem squarely rests on an inadequate judicial system. Simply said, we need more immigration courts.
Through October 2016, more than a half-million cases were awaiting adjudication in U.S. immigration courts. Border Patrol executives put the wait time at 1,000 days.
Budget reductions resulting from the 2011 budget sequestration are the main culprit and the lack of “will” to solve the problem. As immigration enforcement budgets have more than quadrupled over the past five years, funding and staffing for the immigration courts have lagged far behind. There are currently 242 immigration judges, while 253 judges were on the bench in 2010.
The July 2014 prioritization of cases of children and families from Central America seeking asylum has led to the further escalation of wait times for the many immigration court cases that have not been prioritized. Some judges have been removed from their typical caseload to hear only cases of recently arrived children and families, leading to even further delays.
In order to clear the backlog of these half-million cases by 2023, Congress would need to double the number of immigration judges. Alternatively, failure to increase the number of judges could result in a backlog of as many as 1 million cases in only five years.
Additionally, many children who arrive from Central America know they can surrender to Border Patrol, be sent to a detention center and within a few weeks be released to family members in the United States, never to be heard from again. These children should be processed quickly, and so too should the parents or family members who come to pick them up.
If the parents or other relatives are determined to be out-of-status or undocumented, then both the parents and children should be legally processed expeditiously and returned to their country of origin. That result would stop the migration of children because the prompt enforcement actions would be quickly passed on to families in those Central American countries hoping to migrate their children.
To solve the border security problem, we must look to reasonable and productive solutions that benefit the United States and Mexico. As Texas’ largest trading partner and our neighbor, we must support a border security plan with Mexico that continues to foster economic development and our good neighbor policies that have been in place for generations.
Cleaning up the river in cooperation with Mexico would create a natural barrier that is an effective and economically positive solution, one that protects and preserves the border’s most important asset – the Rio Grande River – and private property rights that have existed for 300 years. By following this path and by doubling the number of immigration judges to solve the real crisis with immigration, we can provide American citizens with comfort that our border is secure and our economy has been protected.
All of these suggestions come at a cost well below that of building walls that only act to destroy our relationship with Mexico, our ally and partner. If you really want border security, clean up the river and fix the immigration court system.
Dennis Nixon is CEO and chairman of the board of International Bancshares Corporation and International Bank of Commerce.