"Can America secure the homeland? Does a porous border threaten the homeland? Both questions can be answered if we ask and answer a qualifier: to what extent?"
—James Phelps, in the preface to Border Security (2014)

Over the summer, Americans watched with grief as unaccompanied child immigrants massed on the southern border. At the time, there was much discussion about closing the border, talk of disease brought from tropical locals, fear of a criminal element brought by the children and other concerns. One of the most important was the federal government's ability to properly care for the children, as proper clothing and shelter were lacking. Yet, as fears of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the Ebola virus are on the rise in the media, the plight of the children and the policy of the United States have fallen from the consciousness of U.S. citizens.


Now that we are more concerned as a nation with ISIS terrorists infiltrating the nation and Ebola being spread intentionally or unintentionally, the national conversation has turned to visas, airport security checkpoints and the wisdom and legality of forced quarantines.

The developments since the summer, although one seems to have been forgotten, are tied closely together. The United States needs immigration and border reform. The citizens of the U.S. deserve to be secure. Immigrants — legal and illegal alike — deserve to have established policy in place that will allow them to be treated humanely, fairly and consistently. All too often, U.S. policy is reactive, and dependent upon the whims of the political environment or the new threat facing the homeland. A strong, articulate policy would create proper procedure for most, if not all, threats. Immigration, terrorism and pandemic are not new threats. We should not have to act like they are.

So, post-midterm election Congress, please do your constituents and the nation a solid: After your revelry is done, come to Capitol Hill to work, to accomplish, to debate and to create. Come together in the spirit of unity to provide thoughtful, meaningful bipartisan immigration reform and border security.

And, if I may offer some advice: Don't merely look to the southern border. Politico's Garrett Graff wrote in an all-too-prescient article called "Fear Canada" that "Canada has struggled publicly with its own jihadist terror plots." Less than a week after the article was published, the Canadian Parliament was under attack.

Graff's overall point was that to secure the homeland against terrorist threat, the U.S. should work to secure the northern border. Graff notes that:

"[T]he Border Patrol summarizes its mission as being the 'the primary federal law enforcement organization responsible for preventing the entry of terrorists and terrorist weapons from entering the United States between official U.S. Customs and Border Protection ports of entry.

Yet on a daily basis, nearly all of its effort goes towards policing illegal migration. The fact that border security actually has little to do with terrorism is evident from the way the Border Patrol allocates resources — devoting seemingly endless resources to the southern border, even as it leaves comparatively undefended and understaffed the only land border al Qaeda has ever actually used to sneak into the United States."

To what extent do we, as a nation, want or need to secure the border with Canada? It may depend on whether we view a terrorist threat or economic status as the more important threat to homeland. While there are justifiable concerns with the import of terrorism across the border to the north, the open border does allow for booming trade with Canada.

Congress has a rough road ahead if it chooses to address the broader border and immigrations complexities facing the nation. Let's hope that the 114th Congress has the wherewithal to accomplish necessary reform.

Gibson is an associate professor of political science at Westminster College in Missouri.