At a recent town hall meeting in Tempe, Arizona, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) announced that President Obama is “holding border security hostage” to immigration reform. Kyl claims that Obama suggested in private that Democrats won’t secure the border because, if they do, Republicans will have no reason to support immigration reform:
I met with the President in the Oval Office, just the two of us. I kicked the rest of the people out. [...] Here’s what the President said: “The problem is, …if we secure the border, then you all won’t have any reason to support ‘comprehensive immigration reform.” In other words, they’re holding it hostage. They don’t want to secure the border unless and until it’s combined with comprehensive immigration reform. I explained, you and I, Mr. President, have an obligation to secure the border.
And it also has potentially positive benefits. You don’t have to have comprehensive reform to secure the border.
Perhaps Obama failed to mention it to Kyl, or maybe Kyl conveniently omitted any remarks that explained to him that there’s a much better reason to hold off on throwing billions of dollars at the border other than the crude political calculations that Kyl accuses Democrats of: the border is reportedly safer than it’s ever been. The mistaken premise behind the Republicans’ call for border security before immigration reform is based on the premise that there has been a rabid increase in violence at the border since Kyl’s immigration reform bill failed in 2007. In other words, it gives Republicans reason to oppose legislation that they went as far as sponsoring just a couple years ago. It would be a good excuse if it were true. However, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation statistics, violent crime at the border has been steadily declining.
While the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has made great strides over the past year, one type of crime is up at the border: property crime. That’s because no matter how much money is poured into “border security,” it doesn’t change the fact that the lack of green cards and work permits means that immigrants enter the U.S. via the backyards of border residents. The country’s visa system is outdated by more than 20 years and, regardless of economic conditions in the U.S., immigrants who are desperate to work here are offered almost no legal avenues to make that possible. Kyl’s own ten point border security plan would do almost nothing to solve that or address the 12 million undocumented immigrants who are already in the U.S. By creating a flexible visa lottery that responds to U.S economic needs and putting undocumented immigrants on a path to legalization, immigration reform would do that and more.
The problem with the approach taken by Kyl and Republicans is that it conflates illegal immigration with dangerous criminality. There’s even a psychological term that was recently used to describe the chronic misperception experienced by Republicans: self-serving perception bias. Overall, immigrants are less likely to commit crimes and immigration reform could go a long way in freeing up more resources that DHS can direct away from chasing undocumented workers through the desert and towards pursuing threats to our national security. In the end, Republicans are holding immigration reform hostage to border security and blocking a comprehensive solution to our nation’s immigration problem to score cheap political points.
White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer states:
The President didn’t say that and Senator Kyl knows it. There are more resources dedicated toward border security today than ever before, but, as the President has made clear, truly securing the border will require a comprehensive solution to our broken immigration system.