BRIDGTON — All four members of Maine’s congressional delegation recently recommended “comprehensive immigration reform” as their solution to the crisis on our southern border (“Maine’s delegates in D.C. call for immigration reform,” June 13, Page A8).

You don’t respond to a crisis with a comprehensive solution. A solution to a crisis has to be targeted and specific to the situation. Besides, the U.S. Senate has failed in two comprehensive immigration reform efforts. The first was in 2007, when the Secure Borders, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Reform Act of 2007 was voted down. Sen. Susan Collins cast one of the votes against it.

In 2013, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act did pass the Senate, but was not taken up by the House of Representatives. Sen. Collins did vote in favor of that proposal; Sen. Angus King also supported it.

Now Sen. Lindsey Graham, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has sponsored the Secure and Protect Act of 2019, a bill specifically targeting the asylum system that is at the center of the crisis at the border. This proposal would require migrants to apply for asylum from their home countries or in a third country instead of at the border.

The crisis is not President Trump’s fault. It is a result of an unprecedented surge of migrant families coming to our border, demanding asylum. Kevin K. McAleenan, at the time commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, testifying to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee in March, stated: “In February, we saw roughly 40,000 family unit members in four weeks. This represents an almost 340 percent increase, year-to-date, over last year.”

This unprecedented increase in family units is what has strained our border security system. Border Patrol facilities were designed for adult males, not families, and were not set up as humanitarian facilities. Border Patrol’s purpose is to secure the border and enforce the law.

As part of my advocacy, I have been to the border 10 times since 2005, and I have seen Border Patrol up front and personal, and the criticism they are receiving is unjustified and a national disgrace.

The source of our problem is that, as the Justice Department has determined, the requirement under our immigration laws that migrants, including asylum applicants, have to be detained until their cases are adjudicated. Because there were not enough bed spaces to accommodate the increase in aliens coming across our border illegally, as asylum seekers or as unaccompanied alien children, the Obama administration escalated a “catch and release” policy in 2014. The migrants were given a date to appear in court to have their cases adjudicated, and the unaccompanied alien children were turned over to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

There are more than 800,000 cases waiting to be heard by immigration judges, a backlog that will take years to clear. In the meantime, the asylum seekers can get a work permit in 150 days. They may, or may not, file an application for asylum (they have a one-year filing deadline) and may, or may not, receive an approval of their asylum requests.

According to a fiscal year 2018 report by the Executive Office for Immigration Review, only 13 percent of migrants showing up at our border claiming asylum are granted asylum. The majority either do not file an asylum claim, or are denied asylum.

The crisis has now come to Maine, with recent reports of more than 200 asylum seekers arriving recently. Gov. Mills says, “We are all in this together,” signaling that Maine taxpayers are expected to contribute to the costs of supporting the asylum seekers. I doubt that residents of Rangeley, Allagash and Fort Kent would agree with that sentiment (“City seeks housing for migrants as councilors discuss aid,” June 18, Page A1).

So, what will happen to those asylum seekers who fail to file applications, and those who are denied asylum? It may be that asylum seekers from African nations may be better able to meet the “credible fear” standards for achieving asylum than the population in the 2018 Executive Office for Immigration Review report.

In any event, it is imperative that the legislation sponsored by Sen. Graham gets a favorable hearing, and that our two senators line up in support of his bill.


Comments are not available on this story.