Travel ban creates another border crisis

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There is a crisis on the border between the US and Mexico. It is not what Washington politicians speak about and journalists fly in from across the country to cover.

The crisis du jour is the increase in migrants crossing the border. But for decades the flow of migrants has been rising and falling under a broken immigration system and costly border security systems, driven by economic and political forces far beyond our border communities.

The real crisis has been going on for over a year now: the closure of our border crossings for so-called minor travel. In addition to the economic impact of the pandemic, the shutdown has ravaged border businesses, divided families and devastated communities on both sides of the Rio Grande. Small businesses are destroyed.

Both crises – the one that attracts attention and the other that is ignored – are a function of the same problem. Washington decision-makers do not listen to those of us who live and work on the border.

We have been providing sensible solutions to border security, trade and immigration issues for years. The solutions we provide require sustained commitment. Unfortunately, too many people in the Beltway play politics with these topics and are more interested in photo ops and sounds.

The increase in border crossings and arrests is the result of the Biden government’s political disregard for a plan to cope with the foreseeable increase in asylum seekers following the end of the “stay in Mexico” policy.

Our nation’s asylum policy – part of our seedy immigration system – was in need of repair even before President Joe Biden. However, Biden made matters worse. Under current policy, migrants can legally apply for asylum as soon as they enter US territory and face the years-long decision-making process. People smugglers and social media have spread the word, drawing migrants to the border to meet traffickers who are making huge sums of money to bring them to the United States.

Also, in most parts of Texas, the border wall does not sit on the banks of the Rio Grande and is often hundreds of meters from the border. One of the many stupidities of President Donald Trump’s expensive and ineffective wall is that once migrants cross the river and enter the so-called enforcement zone behind the wall, they are entitled to asylum because they are already in the United States.

Both parties bear responsibility for this unfortunate situation. Since President Ronald Reagan forged a bipartisan agreement in 1986, there has been no meaningful reform of our country’s immigration policy. Thirty-five years later, our immigration policies and the physical and administrative systems that support them are completely out of sync with our national interests and economic needs. Our immigration system should meet our labor needs.

Our immigration policies contradict the demographic realities of an American population that is aging rapidly while birth rates are falling rapidly. Every sector of our economy, from high-tech jobs to healthcare to agriculture, needs human capital to keep growing.

Our nation thrives on the contributions and entrepreneurship of new Americans. Biden’s efforts to provide permanent protection to DACA recipients is an important first step, but it’s a small step. Much more political reform is needed to solve this terrible problem.

Then there is the other crisis: the border closure to what the government calls unnecessary travel. In Laredo, Mexican shoppers account for 40 to 45 percent of retail activity, according to a report by the Dallas Federal Reserve. Similar economic impacts from Mexican visitors can be found in Brownsville, McAllen, and El Paso. For the second year running, malls and shopping districts stood empty during Holy Week, usually a bonanza for frontier businesses.

The supposedly temporary border closings were initiated in the early days of the pandemic without any scientific justification. Ridiculously, the restrictions do not apply to air travel. Mexicans can fly to San Antonio or Houston for shopping. But if they want to walk or drive over a bridge in Laredo to do these things, they can’t.

While there is no quick fix to the migrant problem, there is one for closing border travel: the Biden government must stop monthly extensions of punitive and ineffective restrictions on “non-essential travel”.

Our border communities are a city in two countries. Border traffic must be reopened.

If the people who claim to be concerned about the border mean what they say, they will listen to the residents of the area and continue to work with us on solutions after the photo ops are over.

Dennis E. Nixon is Chairman and CEO of IBC Bank in Laredo.



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