Border security that is smart, just and merciful
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Earlier this month we experienced some unprecedented events in the Hall of the House.  On Jan. 15 we celebrated what would have been Martin Luther King, Jr’s 90th birthday, had he been allowed to live. On that date, we passed a resolution in the House disapproving of racist comments uttered by one of our members. While these events were taking place, a significant number of our federal employees were furloughed and many of them being forced to work without pay.

The manufactured border security crisis reminds me of a passage in Dr. King’s letter from the Birmingham jail, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” Current practices and policies at our Southern border wrought inexcusable injustices throughout our country that cry out for just and merciful solutions.   

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I applaud the president’s reopening of the federal government and appreciate his recognition of the need for a “smart wall,” which I have defined as one that uses drones, scanners, and sensors to create a technological barrier too high to climb over, too wide to go around, and too deep to burrow under. Traditional walls are primitive and ineffective. They are expensive to build and to maintain. And throughout history—from the Wall of Jericho to the Great Wall of China to the Berlin Wall—they have ultimately failed to achieve their goals.

There are those who are forced, by life-threatening circumstances, to leave their homes and everything they know to seek asylum in this great country. If they reach our shores, their right to seek asylum is nonnegotiable. We must make the beginning of this process—their entry into our country—as secure and humane as possible by adequately staffing, appropriately equipping, and properly managing our ports of entry.

I recognize that we have differences on how best to improve security along the rest of the border. One of my favorite Bible verses is Micah 6:8, “to do justice, be merciful, and walk humbly.” This is sometimes hard to do, especially when trying to fashion legislation, but not impossible.

In the 115th Congress, my colleagues – Democratic Rep. Pete AguilarPeter (Pete) Ray AguilarPro-business Dem group sees boost in fundraising Left flexes muscle in immigration talks Immigration groups press for pairing Dreamer benefits with border security MORE (Calif.) and Republican Rep. Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdFreshman House Dems surge past GOP in money race DCCC opens Texas office to protect House pickups, target vulnerable GOP seats Dems ramp up subpoena threats MORE (Texas) – offered a proposal that accomplishes a just, merciful, and humble plan to secure our border; and the future of the undocumented young people (Dreamers) who were brought to this country through no fault of their own. My colleague, Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.), offered a proposal to provide lasting security to recipients of Temporary Protected Status (TPS), as did a bipartisan group of members of Congress from South Florida. I believe these bills provide a starting point toward a solution that addresses these urgent challenges.

Such a solution must reflect our nation’s values to protect the Dreamers and TPS recipients. It must also invest in technology and infrastructure at the border to support our Border Patrol agents and Field Operations Officers to safely and efficiently enforce our immigration laws. And it must support hiring more immigration judges and attorneys to stem the court case backlogs. Right now most drug smugglers come through the ports of entry; and, according to a Washington Office on Latin America report, most asylum seekers don’t come through ports of entry. It is important that our borders facilitate legal crossings and effective, efficient, humane laws. 

“A big, beautiful 30 ft.” concrete wall will be nothing more than a symbolic monument and just as ineffective as its historical predecessors. Only a smart wall and smart policies can result in immigration and border security practices that advance justice and mercy everywhere.

Clyburn is House majority whip. He represents South Carolina’s 6th District.