We can end the shutdown with $1 billion — Trump and Democrats already agree on border security

Getty Images

Amid the fog of battle over the wall, two undisputed points of agreement are emerging over how to improve border security: first, fix the immigration court system and second, beef-up ports of entry. The president proposed them in his latest speech and so have Democrats. If Congress and the president genuinely want our nation re-opened, they should agree to these settled points, instead of reaching for an impossible grand bargain in just a few days on Trump’s wall, the Dreamers and Temporary Protected Status (TPS).

Until recently, little has been said about the immigration court which play an absolutely vital role in the enforcement of immigration laws. In fact, immigration judges order removal in about 150,000 cases each year — not all but still a sizable chunk of all removals. The court is also the keystone to America’s reputation as a country that is ruled by law and guarantees due process for those facing deportation.

{mosads}For years, however, the court has been drowning under an ever-growing backlog that has ballooned under this administration’s watch to 800,000 cases. Those who want speedier deportations are outraged that the court now takes years to decide a case. Asylum seekers and people deserving legal relief are no less distressed by lengthy court delays, knowing that evidence supporting their claims will go stale and witnesses’ memories will fade over the passage of time.

One solution is to do exactly what the president proposes and which Democrats also support: Give more money to the immigration court, whose budget of just over $400 million is dwarfed by the behemoth $21 billion combined budgets of the major enforcement agencies, Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Each party has proposed funding the courts at $563 million which would add 75 more immigration judge teams to the existing pool of 350 judges.

Yes, the immigration court absolutely needs more money but it also needs true reform. Unlike what we were taught by “Schoolhouse Rock,” the immigration court has never functioned as an independent third branch because it is controlled by the Department of Justice, part of the executive branch of government. As a result, the court is vulnerable to interference, a weakness former Attorney General Jeff Sessions exploited repeatedly by issuing legal opinions restricting the authority of immigration judges to continue and close cases – powers essential to manage their cases efficiently. He has even attempted to re-write asylum law. If both Republicans and Democrats are serious about improving the immigration court, they would not only fund it but also establish it as an independent Article I court separate from the Justice Department.

The other point the president and Democrats agree upon is the need to improve ports of entry. By now, the call for the president’s wall has been thoroughly discredited as unnecessary. But drug and weapons smuggling into the country is a serious threat. Yet the vast majority of contraband smuggling, occurs not between ports of entry where the wall would be, but at the ports themselves. For example, 90 percent of all opioids seized by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers come in at the ports of entry.

To properly screen all the people and vehicles crossing at ports, CBP needs more staffing to the tune of 4,000 officers, as well as investments in technology and infrastructure to modernize the ports themselves. Targeting the contraband entering at ports must also be paired with sophisticated crime-fighting strategies that stop the transnational cartels that rely on money-laundering operations to move funds in and out of the United States.

Combined, this funding for the ports and for immigration courts exceeds $1 billion, a massive investment, but one that both parties want. Providing that much money would be a major advancement in border security and show bipartisan accord on the divisive third rail of immigration. Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) could add these components to the $1.6 billion in border fencing that Democrats already agreed to as a political compromise even though the funding is excessive and unnecessary. Restrictionists are fixated on the wall and supporters of immigration including my organization, want Dreamers and those with TPS to be protected. But those fights will have to wait. The president should open our federal government and our nation’s doors for business.

Greg Chen is director of government relations for the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA).

Tags border security Jeff Sessions Mitch McConnell wall

More Immigration News

See All
See all Hill.TV See all Video