The U.S.-Mexican border is a bit under 2000 miles long. About 650 miles of the border have various kinds of barriers, including fencing, vehicular obstacles, and wall-like structures.
The hard realities along the border demand three things: infrastructure, personnel, and technology. Over the past several weeks, I have received hundreds of calls for and against “The Wall.” I can't imagine anyone in America doesn't have an opinion on this by now given the backdrop of a partial government shutdown, nonstop media debate, and an Oval Office address.
No one wins in a government shutdown; no one wins if the border is not secure. The basic need for a properly ordered immigration system is entangled with certain unfunded bills held over from last year, affecting about 25 percent of government operations. In Nebraska, there are 2700 federal workers affected.
After a change of power and the venerable Swearing In of a new Congress, it didn't take long for the Washington debate and politics to break down in typical finger-pointing. But there are only two principles at work here that must be held in balance: 1) It is illegal to enter the U.S. illegally; and 2) America is a kind and generous nation. Law and order create the conditions necessary for justice and compassion. We have opened our arms to persons who seek refuge, want to rebuild their lives, and embrace the deeper values of our country. However, charity cannot flow from chaos.
We ought to be able to rise above the momentary difficulty, whether it is a negotiation between the Senate and the House, the President and the House, or the President and the Senate, to find the mutually compatible goals of an operational government and safety for America. The right type of assistance for our border authorities, the right type of barriers, the right type of technology, and the right type of preventative measures create the conditions in which America can have a truly just and humanitarian response to those in need.
What I cannot accept, however, is that the House of Representatives simply pass the Senate's bills without any negotiated process. This has been the strategic play in Congress this week and it is particularly difficult for those of us on the Appropriations Committee with frontline responsibility for expenditures. This past summer, a number of us in Congress tried to align on a solution that combined several things: increased border security with wall funding, modernization of our immigration laws, and a responsible move forward on the question of the DACA kids, who were brought here through no fault of their own.
The solutions we supported were an attempt to reach consensus on a number of important issues, and likely would have garnered the President's support. This measure failed, setting the conditions for the current impasse. A cynical view would say that both sides benefit from the controversy and the non-solution of the current moment.
Let’s be clear. The situation at the border is serious. There is a humanitarian crisis and a security threat. I have been to the border before. I have stood in the weeds at night with authorities and watched as people illegally swam the Rio Grande and crossed into America. That cannot be our norm.
I have also worked closely with the countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras on the needed reforms to stop the pressures for out-migration. A holistic strategy requires that we move the immigration problem off the one-yard-line.
The President might soon declare a national emergency. I don’t know if that will happen. He may shift other disaster funds into border security. Either way, there’s no shutting down these hard realities.