Can wall, more green cards help border immigration crisis?

Immigration

Migrants wait along a border wall Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2022, after crossing from Mexico near Yuma, Ariz. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

(NewsNation) — Build a wall. Fund the border police. Make green cards more accessible. 

Americans think these responses will most likely deter unauthorized immigration, according to a new DDHQ/NewsNation poll.

“Because (walls) can provide immediate relief to the problems at hand, walls can buy decisionmakers the time and political space they need for other instruments of power to work, and for those tools to prove decisive,” writes Raphael S. Cohen, a senior political scientist with RAND Corporation. “In this sense, walls can enable victory, but rarely are the reason for it.”

The poll also found Republicans were more invested in immigration as a incisive political issue, said Decision Desk HQ senior data scientist Kiel Williams, adding that may influence how people vote in upcoming elections.

While Republicans are more likely to say immigration is a crisis, voters in both parties think the movement of migrants from Texas and Florida to other cities hurt, or did not help, things at the border, according to the poll.

Experts say it will take a mix of short- and long-term solutions to solve the border crisis. We take a look at how well these responses have worked — and what’s needed to make them more efficient. 

A southern border wall

About 25% of respondents said they thought building a border wall would deter undocumented immigrants from crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, a complex solution costing billions that has yet to make a long-term dent in the influx of migrants entering the southern states.

There are places along the 2,000-mile-long border where a wall has decreased migration. Take for example San Diego, which dropped to 39,000 crossings in 2015 after its construction from 600,000 two decades earlier, reports Jennifer McFadyen for Thoughtco. To this day, relative apprehensions remain low

Still, local achievements don’t necessarily reflect the border as a whole. Today, unauthorized migrant crossings are at an all time high — more than 1.9 million in the last 11 months — which many experts say is because people are crossing in different and more dangerous places. 

“Our deterrence policies, our fencing, our walls, just make it a little bit harder to cross, but it doesn’t stop it,” Jenn Budd, a former Border Patrol agent, told The Texas Tribune recently. “And more than anything, it funnels migrants into places where (cartels) have more control.”

Increasingly sophisticated technology is used to bridge the gaps in the wall, improving the number of captured unlawful entrants. Still, these tools only work if you don’t want to get caught, and advocates point out that many crossers are asylum seekers — who have a legal right and incentive to apply for shelter in the U.S. 

CBP Air and Marine and Border Patrol agents airlift an injured migrant. Courtesy of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Prioritizing U.S. Customs and Border Protection funding

While the wall has taken up a huge piece of the conversation and funding in the past two decades, experts and lawmakers alike say the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency is underfunded. This is particularly true when examining the Ports of Entry, where the majority of legal border crossers, tourists, asylum seekers funnel through.

Just over 20% of respondents said they think CBP should receive more federal funding.

These entries were designed an average of 40 years ago — and not built or staffed for the influx of traffic seen today. As a result, they often “remain dilapidated, inefficient, and in dire need of modernization,” reports the National Immigration Forum, contributing to security vulnerabilities and smuggling of narcotics.

The Infrastructure and Jobs Act designates $3.6 billion to address these shortcomings, including building an integrated technology system, improving roads and increasing asylum seeker processing centers. 

That last one is especially important, according to the Migrant Policy Institute, as political instability worsens in Guatemala, Honduras and Venezuela, where a large majority of migrants come from. Government data shows a majority of migrants are asylum seekers and choose to turn themselves in at the border wall or ports of entry. 

Experts point out the overwhelmed CBP systems and staff have exacerbated problems on both sides of the border, whereas an improved asylum system could reduce the number of people living in limbo while their case processes.

Expanding green card and visa availability

Just under 20% of respondents said the federal government should increase the number of green cards and visas availability. One potential policy solution has the opportunity to make a big impact: green card recapture. 

The U.S. sets aside a certain number of green cards per year, yet hundreds of thousands go unused every year due to administration inefficiencies and caps on green cards per country, reports the National Immigration Forum. 

Meanwhile, more than one million people are currently waiting for employment-based green cards, reports bipartisan political organization FWS.us. That doesn’t include the many more waiting for family-based green cards, or other types of visas (like U-Visas for victims of crime) that have enormous backlogs.

Work is done on a new border wall being constructed on January 22, 2021 in Jacumba, California. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)

Policy analysts and immigration advocates say giving out unused green cards going back three decades would be a simple solution to decrease backlogs, without the controversial move of increasing numerical limitations. 

Others advocate for the more targeted approach. A bill introduced in July would eliminate the per-country limit on job-related green cards and raise the limit on family-related green cards. And still others argue for more temporary work visas, which dropped significantly during the pandemic.

Experts say increasing visa opportunities is growing in importance as political unrest, war, economic disaster and climate emergencies push people from the same countries to seek a new life — and that it’ll positively impact the U.S. economy rocked by workplace shortages and disruptions in food and manufacturing supply chains.

“Benefits will accrue at all levels. We ought to open all four channels of migration — humanitarian, economic, family and diversity — and will see benefits of it,” CUNY labor studies professor Deepak Bhargava told Vox. “Ultimately, this is going to require a new political consensus.”

NewsNation Special Projects Producer Marty Hobe contributed reporting.

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