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Kristian Ramos Headshot

Will The GOP Ever Invest In the Infrastructure for Legal Immigration?

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Here is an uncomfortable truth for the GOP: government investment in the southwest border region is paying dividends. Undocumented Mexican migration through our southwest border has gone down, legal Mexican travel and trade with the United States has increased. Legal immigration and increased trade are two issues the GOP are purported to support, yet when it comes to investing in the Southwest border region and legal immigration, House Republican's are dragging their feet.

With virtually no chance of anything immigration related passing in the House or Senate, investment in the legal flow of commerce and people at our border is a great compromise on legislative action in an election year. Safety along the southwest border is at an all time high, yet the Republican Party refuses to acknowledge these positive steps and move beyond enforcement only measures on the border. On common sense measures like investing in our ports of entry the GOP have been nowhere, worse they have fanned the flames of Border alarmists to make it all but impossible to help struggling economies on the border. The reality is that the movement of more people and goods legally into the United States creates economic growth for the southwest and the country as a whole.

The U.S. side of the U.S. Mexico border has never been safer in part because of a long term build up in a military security apparatus; however the increase in security has also trapped many migrants who would traditionally leave. Douglas Massey, founder and co-director of the Mexican Migration Project at Princeton recently told NPR:

"The main effect of making the border crossing riskier and more costly was that it kept people inside the United States and actually contributed to the building up of a population north of the border as people stopped circulating back and forth to avoid the costs and risks at the border. And that's led to the problem that we currently face - the 11.5 million people out of status and living in the United States."

Investing in our ports of entry would create more of a circular flow of immigrants, allowing those who don't want to remain permanently in the U.S. to leave. A recent GAO report showed that despite progress in overall border safety there are still significant problems in moving people and commerce through the ports of entry.

Inadequate staffing at the ports also hurts trade for the U.S. with one of our largest trading partners Mexico. This is due to delays, poor enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights, inadequate enforcement of duty collection and country of origin declarations, and more. A report by the Union for Federal Employees found that the "cumulative loss in output due to border delays over the next ten years is estimated to be $86 billion."

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ.), a legislator from the Southwest border region, has released an amendment which would increase staffing at ports of entry. Unfortunately there is little chance of this being included in the DHS appropriations bill. Why, because a sizable amount of money, $10.2 billion goes straight to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) alone. This is a shame because an investment in the ports while a smart safety investment would also build on gains in the legal entry of immigrants something House GOP members have long purported to support.

In a recent New York Times Op-ed Massey and Jorge Castenada note that legal immigration is slowly increasing, due to more legal temporary worker visas, business visas and exchange visitor programs. The reality is given the gains in safety, the decrease in the flows of illegal entry, and the increase in legal immigration at the southwest border, the Republican Party is running out of reasons to not to invest in greater infrastructure to process legal immigration.

As with most issues facing the Republican Party this is a question of investment: double down on increasingly unnecessary security measures or spread funding more evenly to include our ports of entry. Remember enhancing our ports of entry is also an enhancement in safety. While investment in our ports is a step in the right direction, a real long term solution would be to pass a comprehensive overhaul of our immigration system. But at this point one thing at a time.