Opinion | Susan Knopf: On the border

It’s one thing to see it on television. It’s another to stand next to an 18-foot-tall steel fence, wired with sensors, bordered by a swift-flowing V-shaped irrigation ditch. The ditch siphons off water from the Rio Grande, so the riverbed heading to Mexico is just a trickle. It harkens to medieval images of a castle and a moat.  

I thought of a 21-year-old I met. She recently arrived in Summit County without U.S. government documentation. Her three-and-a-half-month-long journey included a dangerous trek through the desert to avoid official ports of entry.

She was apprehended by U.S. authorities the first time she tried to make the perilous passage with her then-1-year-old child last year. She may be ineligible to legally immigrate for years.

This time, her 2-year-old daughter arrived at the border with the help of friends. She was likely one of those handed over the fence, like we see on the news.

That process put her daughter in the system, and on a path for legal asylum. She found a better coyote and made it to Summit County to reunite with her mother and her daughter. Their family had been separated for eight years. What trauma has been visited upon them by these events?

I have a friend here in Summit County. She says her family waited eight years to immigrate from Europe, and she can’t understand why these people can’t just wait and enter our country with proper documentation.

The wait isn’t eight years anymore. It’s 15-25 years. People can’t wait because there is no work, no food, violent drug cartels or corrupt governments terrorizing their families. There is one way. Pay a coyote more than $20,000 — some up front, some on loan — and take your chances. This choice gives them little chance of obtaining legal U.S. papers. It is an opportunity to survive. That’s something they don’t have if they stay in their home countries.

Think about how much two attempts cost. Imagine yourself making this more than 2,000-mile pilgrimage twice in a year. They are determined.

Imagine if these people could apply to enter the U.S. through a timely functional immigration system and pay that money to us, and get tax identification numbers, and pay taxes.

They are coming. There is no wall high enough. We might as well create a system that allows for humane intake and processing — a system that benefits us and the immigrant. 

Thus far, our representatives in Washington have lacked the political courage, because we lacked the collective political will to demand immigration reform. That may be changing.

According to a survey by National Immigration Forum, more than 80% of those surveyed agreed with the statement, “As the U.S. works to restore order at the border, it is important that Republicans and Democrats work together to pass immigration reforms that address labor shortages and inflation, and protect people already here and contributing.”

Last week, Florida Republican Rep. Maria Salazar introduced the Dignity Act (H.R.3599). It was co-sponsored by El Paso Democrat Congresswoman Veronica Escobar.

The National Immigration Forum, an immigration advocacy group, summarizes the bill’s provisions. Some sound good. Some are pie in the sky, particularly considering the proposed debt ceiling deal which caps spending. The bill, referred to 13 House committees, won’t immediately help the 21–year-old’s situation explained above. She hasn’t been here long enough to qualify for the dignity program, which requires undocumented workers to have been in the U.S. continuously for at least five years.

If you are reading this column you are most likely an immigrant. It’s just a question of when. My grandparents immigrated as children. Today their immigration path is closed. They were sponsored by cousins. The previous president closed that pathway. The current president has not reopened it. My family didn’t need to seek asylum. They came for economic reasons and started businesses.

It is a proven fact that immigrants expand the economy. They do not replace us.

For the record, economics professors from Stanford and Princeton universities concluded in their published research, “Immigrant success does not come at the expense of U.S.-born workers.” Ran Abramitzky and Lean Boustan’s work is featured in their book “Streets of Gold, The Untold Story of Immigrant Success,” and it is recommended by Forbes.

As retired Chief Border Patrol Agent Michael Debruhl told my group visiting the border, we need to “do the right thing.”

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