SAN DIEGO — On April 12, I toured the busiest border crossing between America and Mexico — the San Ysidro Port of Entry, in San Diego — and the walls being built around it.
Guided by a U.S. Border Patrol team, I also traveled along the border right down to where the newest 18-foot-high slatted steel barrier ends and the wide-open hills and
craggy valleys beckoning drug smugglers, asylum seekers and illegal immigrants begin.
It’s a very troubling scene.
According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, since October, along the whole southwest border, from California through Texas, there have been 190,000 apprehensions
of “family units” (a child under 18 with a parent or legal guardian) who crossed illegally from Mexico, up from 40,000 a year ago.
That’s an increase of 374 percent.
And roughly 30 percent of those apprehended sought asylum — up from 1 percent a couple of years ago.
Asylum is a humanitarian status based on fear of persecution in one’s native land.
Many of these requests are legitimate; some are economic migrants gaming the process.
But once you’re in the U.S. and file for asylum, there’s a good chance for you to stay — legally or illegally.
In addition to families, 135,000 adults and 36,000 unaccompanied children have been apprehended since October after entering illegally.
Most of these immigrants come from Guatemala and Honduras (where President Trump recently decided — insanely — to cut humanitarian aid),
but migrants are also now flocking to open borders from as far away as Haiti and Africa.
The whole day left me more certain than ever that we have a real immigration crisis and that the solution is a high wall with a big gate— but a smart gate.
Without a high wall, too many Americans will lack confidence that we can control our borders, and they therefore will oppose the steady immigration we need.
But for this wall to have a big gate, it has to be a smart and compassionate one, one that says, “Besides legitimate asylum seekers, we’ll accept immigrants at a rate at which
they can be properly absorbed into our society and work force, and we’ll favor visa seekers with energies and talents that enrich and advance our society.”
That’s the opposite of the unstrategic, far-too random, chaotic immigration “system” we have now.
That’s been a “system” in which millions of people could cross into our country illegally or overstay their visas.
Or cross over and claim asylum and then melt into society while awaiting their hearings.
Or bring in their family members through family reunification programs.
And that’s no matter their possible impact on communities and social welfare resources or their ability to assimilate and contribute to society.
By Thomas L. Friedman Opinion Columnist
April 23, 2019