New data released on Tuesday by the Customs and Border Patrol shows migrant apprehensions along the southern border have roughly doubled in recent months.
In the five-month period between October and February, the Border Patrol made 267,900 arrests, compared with 136,209 over the same period last year. This spike is being driven by a 300 percent increase in the number of family crossings. “The situation is not sustainable,” warns Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan.
President Trump has repeatedly cited this increase in migrant families as justification for his border wall national emergency that is opposed by Congress. Yet a wall would have little-to-no effect on this migrant flow because these families are voluntarily turning themselves over to authorities to claim asylum, including at legal ports of entry and areas with existing fencing. “The wall is not going to do anything with this population,” explains Manuel Padilla, a Border Patrol director. “This requires a legislative fix.”
What’s a legislative fix to solve this humanitarian problem? A big part of the solution is expanding work visas, which would relieve much of the pressure at the border.
Work visas are a compromise between militarizing the border and open borders. They would allow those with a job offer (and who are not a threat to public safety or public health) to enter legally to pursue the American dream. They would finally create a functional legal pathway for migrants seeking to escape violence and pursue a better life for their families, in line with the proud American tradition.
Currently, these migrants have virtually no options to immigrate legally. Existing potential visa programs are industry-specific, seasonal, bureaucratic, expensive, and have extremely low quotas. Migrants who face hunger, violence, and socialist governance at home are left with no other choice.
Work visa legislation would be nearly as beneficial to Americans as the migrants themselves. The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently announced that there are 7.3 million unfilled jobs in the country. To put that number in perspective, this is more than the number of unemployed Americans plus the number who have given up looking for work. This labor shortage is one of the biggest headwinds the American economy faces.
For all the handwringing about widespread job automation, the economy is desperate for low-skilled labor. The BLS estimates there are currently about one million unfilled jobs in each of the following sectors of the economy: accommodation and food service, retail, and healthcare and social assistance. It projects that nearly one-quarter of future jobs will not require a high-school diploma.
More workers also mean more taxpayers to supplement the labor force participation rate, which is declining as the American population ages. This would improve the country’s fiscal situation, which is currently characterized by trillion-dollar deficits ten years into a bull market.
By reducing the strain at the southern border, work visas would also allow Border Patrol to focus their limited resources on legitimate national security threats. At their Tuesday briefing, officials highlighted the difficulties of trying to keep out drugs while their attention was simultaneously diverted to performing humanitarian tasks for desperate, yet peaceful, economic migrants.
Expanded work visas used to be the conservative solution to immigration. “Rather than talking about putting up a fence,” said then-presidential candidate Ronald Reagan in 1980, “why don’t we … make it possible for them to come here legally with a work permit?” In 2004, President George W. Bush proposed a new temporary worker program that would issue extended non-sector specific work visas, with availability fluctuating based on the number of available jobs in the country.
President Trump has recently admitted that the U.S. needs more workers. Yet his restrictive immigration actions during his presidency don’t match this rhetoric. Legislators who actually want to fix the immigration problem rather than use it as a political cudgel should urge him to follow through on these words by supporting work visas.
Jordan Bruneau is a senior policy analyst at the Becoming American Initiative, a group dedicated to promoting the positive impact that immigrants have on society.