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A shortsighted immigration policy

EDDIE BERNICE JOHNSON | 3/16/2017, 12:54 p.m.
At the onset of President Trump’s campaign, Mr. Trump painted Mexican immigrants with a broad and nefarious brush, demonizing them ...
eddie bernice johnson

30th Congressional District of Texas

At the onset of President Trump’s campaign, Mr. Trump painted Mexican immigrants with a broad and nefarious brush, demonizing them as aggravated felons whose crimes include murder, drug and illegal firearm trafficking, and rape. Although several studies have repeatedly indicated that undocumented immigrants are not disproportionately responsible for crime, this unfortunate sentiment underscores public misperceptions that can influence immigration policies. Now, as Commander in Chief, President Trump stands ready to deliver on his campaign’s tough talk on undocumented immigration by implementing increasingly hostile immigration policies.

Trump’s efforts to remove undocumented immigrants and crack down on undocumented immigration have been self-described as a “military operation.” I do not support any efforts to militarize our immigration enforcement in the United States. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Border Patrol are civilian organizations charged with enforcing federal law surrounding border control and are mandated to carry out that specific task. State and local law enforcement personnel charged with the duty to “protect and serve” their respective communities should be focused on promoting local public safety and not be coerced into unfunded mandates to conduct federal immigration enforcement. Having state and local law enforcement personnel enforce federal immigration laws also erodes the delicate trust that exists between local law enforcement and the communities they serve.

Building a wall to keep out illegal immigrants is not a novel idea. In fact, President George W. Bush signed the Secure Fence Act of 2006 to authorize construction of a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border. Currently, 613 miles of fencing exist on the border. However, a border wall or fence will not achieve the goal that President Trump seeks to accomplish, and I disagree with its premise to keep all immigrants out of our country. It did not work under President Bush and will not work under President Trump. Refusing entry to people who seek safety from danger and violence is anti-American and unconscionable. Furthermore, building a 2,000-mile long wall along our southern border is not only a knee-jerk reaction to our issues with immigration, it is fiscally irresponsible. The wall’s construction alone would cost American taxpayers (make no mistake – it will be the American taxpayer who foots the bill) at least $12 billion, with some estimates approaching upward of $25 billion. Maintenance thereafter would cost another $750 million a year. We simply cannot afford to pay for the wall while our bridges, roads and other infrastructure continue to dangerously deteriorate due to decades of neglect.

The moral case against Trump’s immigration policies is obvious, and the economic arguments against it are daunting. His repeated attempts to impugn the reputation of immigrants living in this country and his relentless condemnation of individuals from varying backgrounds or nationalities is contrary to our values as a nation. As President Trump moves to place the full force of the federal government behind the mass deportation of undocumented immigrants and the construction of a border wall, the time to act on comprehensive immigration reform is now. Although there are many areas of disagreement, there must be a healthy debate on a reform plan. Unilateral executive orders and knee-jerk responses rooted in prejudice will not solve our problems. Instead, they will only result in families being torn apart and violations of due-process rights along the way. Walls, barriers and military patrols will only force those immigrants to utilize ever more dangerous routes and increase the number of people who die in search of an opportunity to feed and clothe their families. Comprehensive immigration reform, not constructing yet another barrier, is the best solution to resolve this issue. I challenge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to come together to create a truly comprehensive plan that creates a reasonable path to citizenship while upholding the law of the land.

U.S. Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson is the ranking member of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology and the highest-ranking Texan on the House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure. She represents the 30th Congressional District of Texas.