RFK, Jr. asked the right questions about immigration. Will other candidates?
Sometimes, it requires a fresh perspective to see reality for what it is. Unfortunately, immigration and border security policy have become such intensely politicized issues that many Americans cannot grasp the enormity of the humanitarian crisis at our southern border.
Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. came to Yuma, Ariz., in early June to learn firsthand just how the migrants and the local citizens have been affected by the policies pursued by the current administration. He sought my perspective on the current crisis as the recently retired chief patrol agent with the U.S. Border Patrol.
It is fair to say he was profoundly dismayed by what he discovered on his trip. But it is also fair to say that what he witnessed at the border has led to one of the most thoughtful policy statements on immigration from a U.S. politician in years, and one that transcends the usual partisan politics.
One of his central discoveries was that President Biden’s “No More Wall” executive order not only halted construction of former President Donald Trump’s wall, but it also defunded a whole system of border security, including cameras, lights, motion detectors, sensor equipment and access roads. This has left agents with none of the tools they need to do their job of securing the border.
That ill-considered executive order has led to the utterly chaotic situation we now find in Yuma and countless other border towns. By depriving our border agents of the necessary means to enforce the law, we have effectively outsourced our immigration policy to the drug cartels, resulting in uncontrolled influxes of migrants and a dystopian nightmare of human trafficking, mass rape, separated and unaccompanied children, and a flood of fentanyl and methamphetamine into the U.S.
Administration policy has transformed the role of border patrol agents into that of travel agents, who merely facilitate the safe transport of undocumented migrants from the border to communities in the U.S. interior. As Kennedy described it after coming to Yuma to see for himself, “the open border policy is just a way of funding a multi-billion-dollar drug and human trafficking operation for the Mexican drug cartels.”
Regardless of the motivations of those who implemented this misguided policy, it is hardly compassionate to let cartels control immigration across our southern border. The primary victims are the migrants themselves, who routinely become victims of robbery, rape and the horrors of the unbelievably dangerous and inhumane journeys to which the cartels subject them, sometimes resulting in their deaths.
An estimated 85,000 children have been separated from their parents, who have no clue of their fate. Once they make it into the interior, undocumented migrants have no protection against exploitation by employers, no bargaining power and none of the legal protections that citizenship provides.
The uncontrolled flow of migrants has also had devastating effects on border communities, many of which are becoming unlivable. Hospitals are overwhelmed with serving migrants, to the point where they are being forced to turn away local residents.
Parents won’t let their children play outside for fear of kidnapping and other violence. Social services and law enforcement are flooded with migrant-related emergencies. The quality of life is quickly deteriorating.
The devastating effects of these thoughtless policies are not limited to border towns, as cities across the U.S. struggle to meet the needs of destitute migrants, putting unbearable strains on social services just to find them housing and provide them with medical care. Because of our refusal to control our country’s borders, every American city has become a border town in some respect as civil society disintegrates.
Kennedy’s solution to the humanitarian disaster at the border should garner broad bipartisan support. First, he proposes regaining control over the border with technology, physical barriers and trained personnel — in other words, to rebuild what the current administration has dismantled and defunded. Contrary to the narrative pushed by those benefiting from the current chaos, this is easily achievable.
Second, he proposes getting on top of asylum claims. Currently, migrants are simply walking across the border in many areas and claiming asylum. Even though only 15 percent of asylum claims are normally approved, they know that, because there are so many millions of backlogged cases, they will be processed and transported into the country before any hearing to determine the validity of their claims, if such hearings ever take place at all. Kennedy credibly argues that if claimants to political asylum understood that their case would be determined swiftly at the border before they were granted entry into the country, most would forgo the considerable risk and expense of entrusting themselves to the cartels to make the journey.
Finally, Kennedy proposes working with the Mexican government to stem the flow of transit migration through Mexico. Biden’s decision to hand effective control of immigration policy to the cartels has had a devastating impact on public safety on both sides of the border. The Mexican government has every incentive to cooperate in restoring order to the situation.
If implemented, this plan would quickly destroy the business model of the drug cartels currently in control of the border. The compassionate, humanitarian approach Kennedy suggests might also help heal the rancorous partisan divide roiling American society over the vexed issue of immigration.
I have believed for many years that anyone with a voice or policymaking role who wants to end the chaos at our southern border must come see it firsthand and spend some time speaking to those whose lives are affected. Kennedy did this, and hopefully others will follow his lead.
Chris Clem is a former chief patrol agent with the United States Border Patrol, who retired last year after 27.5 years of service.
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