Views changing on immigration

The stars are aligning for a breakthrough on the knotty issue of immigration across the U.S. southern border. But a solution is devilishly difficult to untangle.

For the first time in 55 years of asking the question, the Gallup Poll now finds that more Americans support increasing immigration than decreasing it.

In 2009, 50 percent of us called for cutting back on immigration. Today that support is down to just 28 percent. 

Now, 77 percent of Americans call immigration “a good thing.” There’s also that much support for citizenship for “dreamers” — immigrants who came here as children younger than 16 years of age at least 15 years ago. 

Today, about 11 million undocumented immigrants live here. That’s a drop of about 10 percent since 2007. Of that total, 62 percent have lived here for at least a decade, and 21 percent for at least two decades.

And 40 percent who lack documentation are here because they’ve overstayed their visas, not because they sneaked across our borders.

Meanwhile, in 80 percent of U.S. counties the number of workers in the 25 to 64 age group declined between 2007 and 2017. The nation’s birth rate is declining, and workers are retiring at a rate of 10,000 a day. 

Greene County is familiar with those trends. Perhaps the county’s greatest need is to stabilize and then grow its population. A thoughtful national immigration policy could prove a valuable asset for places like ours.

There’s certainly no shortage of people very willing to help us out.

With COVID-19 easing (although slowly and fitfully), the arrival of springlike weather, the inexorable Central America scourges of drug cartels/poverty/violence/corruption, and even extreme weather phenomena in that region, illegal southern border crossings are on the rise. That’s always the case at this time of year — it’s been cyclical like this for many years.

The Biden team knew that, or should have known it. For whatever reason, maybe because they faced so many other festering challenges from the previous administration, Biden and his lieutenants apparently weren’t prepared for the magnitude of immigrant flow.

Now the backlog grows daily. 

Immigration courts, social workers, human services personnel and border patrols face greater volumes of undocumented travelers. A major challenge is how to deal with the ever-larger numbers of unaccompanied minors, most of them teenagers. 

There are now 5,500 unaccompanied minors in U.S. custody. Some 3,700 of them have been held longer than the legal three days, with 750 of those held more than 10 days.

Many are being sent ahead by their parents, in the hope that youngsters are more likely to be granted at least temporary asylum than would their adult relatives. Conditions at home that drive families to those decisions are troubling to contemplate.

The easy solution for a nation would be simply to shut off all border crossings. That’s the philosophy of the wall. Out of sight, out of mind.

That answer, to judge by Gallup’s polling, doesn’t compute for most Americans today. Most of us want a better way.

It’s evident that Biden needs more personnel in a variety of roles to handle the increased numbers. More immigration court appointments are obviously necessary immediately, as well as more humane holding facilities. Reducing the backlog of cases, which now number at least 1 million, is absolutely essential.

An inexcusable failing of Biden’s team is their refusal to allow journalists to visit facilities where youngsters are held. Trump was guilty of many failings in his handling of immigration, but at least news gatherers eventually got a look inside the so-called “cages.” Biden does himself no favors by keeping the press shut out, particularly after he promised transparency as a key tenet of his administration.

Families willing to trek a thousand miles through threatening conditions in search of safety and the basic necessities of life deserve humane treatment and a sympathetic ear.

Americans value decency. 

There has to be a better way, and it’s now up to President Biden to create it.

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