IMMIGRATIONWant to Solve the Border Crisis? Legalize Immigration

By David J. Bier

Published 25 January 2024

Migrants aren’t the problem and the country is not “overwhelmed.” Nativist politicians and impossible barriers to legal entry caused (and maintain) the chaos. In other words, immigration restrictionists create the problems and then demand ever more restrictions to fix them.

Republicans won’t pass aid to Ukraine without a so‐​called “border deal,”and although Democrats don’t agree on how to do it, they have already agreed with the Republicans’ restrictionist goal to let fewer people into America. But nearly everything that politicians now use to justify immigration restriction can be traced to the restrictionist policies already in force.

In other words, immigration restrictionists create the problems and then demand ever more restrictions to fix them. Lather, rinse, repeat.

The answer is quite simple: Legal immigration is impossible for them.

There is no path, other than requesting asylum at the border, that is available to the people who are coming up through Mexico to the United States. If ending illegal immigration was the goal, the government could simply let them come legally.

But that’s not the goal. Politicians are saying that the country is “overwhelmed” and can’t handle any more immigrants, legal or otherwise. What nonsense.

The United States has among the lowest population densities of any country in the world, and U.S. population growth in the 2020s has never been lower. America needs people to fill its nearly nine million open jobs and support its growing retiree population.

Immigrants aren’t the problem. The politicians are the problem.

Border communities are declaring “states of emergency” because they have so many immigrants sleeping on their streets. It’s a real problem, but why are they sleeping on their streets? Because politicians won’t let them enter legally and line up transportation in advance, so when Border Patrol unexpectedly releases them, they sleep next to bus depots waiting for the next bus out of town.

Rural border hospitals are begging Congress for bailouts. But many migrants end up needing medical care because Border Patrol intentionally uses walls to direct them to cross through deserts or across rivers where they can become dehydrated or drown. The wall has only added to the chaos with record numbers falling from the wall and severely injuring themselves.

Don’t blame the immigrant risk-takers—nah, they’d happily enter legally. Blame the politicians who want immigrants to have to jump walls to come.

What about the rise of migrant homelessness in cities across the United States? Surely that proves that we need restriction? Not at all. These immigrants desperately want to work to support themselves, but Biden officials are too scared to let them do so legally because then more will come.

Our political class is choosing to create a homeless crisis, which then creates the justification for more restrictions at the border.

Freeing up Border Patrol would allow it to target criminals who cross the border. But politicians are explicitly not focused on the criminals. They want to keep out those immigrants who the Border Patrol screens and releases, not those who avoid arrests.

Even if more restriction isn’t needed, couldn’t it fix the problems? No, it would exacerbate the crisis.

Let’s review what’s on the table. House Republicans want to ban asylum completely at the southwest border and to send a lot more people to Mexico. But we just lived through this exact combination of policies under “Title 42” health authority and it was a disaster. More people tried to enter, and more importantly, more people tried to sneak past Border Patrol leading to record numbers of deadly chases.

With no reason to turn themselves in, record numbers tried to evade detection and enter without being screened by Border Patrol—that’s the opposite of increasing “security.”

House and Senate Republicans also insist on banning the only legal ways to enter the country for these people by restricting the president’s authority to “parole” them in at ports of entry. Biden is already capping his use of this authority at such a low level that illegal immigration is continuing anyway, but getting rid of it altogether would unleash a deluge of people who would have otherwise entered “the right way.”

When restrictionists get their way and all this chaos predictably plays out, they’ll go back in their tool bag for—you guessed it—more chaos‐​inducing restrictions! There’s a better way. Legalize immigration.

Let people come and work legally and contribute to this great country, just as immigrants have for centuries. That’s the border plan of America’s founders. It was our tradition for most of our history.

David J. Bier is the associate director of immigration studies at the Cato Institute. This article, originally posted to the Cato Institute website, is published courtesy of the Cato Institute.