Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Does Pride Keep the President From Learning From History?

Border Lessons From Bush

By Jason L. Riley

Two Texas lawmakers, Republican Sen. John Cornyn and Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar, are the latest to introduce legislation intended help address the crisis on the Mexican border. The president has requested additional funds for curbing the illegal crossings, and the bill provides some useful preconditions for congressional approval of the funds.

The New York Times explains the key provisions of the measure. "The Cornyn-Cuellar bill, known as the Humane Act, would allow children from Central American countries to opt to be voluntarily sent home, as migrant children from Mexico and Canada can currently choose," writes the paper. "It also would allow children with a legal claim for remaining in the country to make their case before an immigration judge within seven days of undergoing a screening by the Department of Homeland Security. Judges would then have 72 hours to decide whether the child can remain in the country with a sponsor while pursing legal action."

The current process for determining whether an unaccompanied minor from a country other than Mexico or Canada can stay can take years, which provides an incentive for foreigners to send children north and hope for the best. Any reform being contemplated by the White House or Congress ought to address that perverse incentive.

The U.S. faced a similar challenge in the mid-2000s, when border patrol was caught unawares by a surge of Brazilian illegals. The Bush administration determined that word had gotten back to Brazil that people apprehended at the border would be released and able to stay, so the Department of Homeland Security initiated an operation dubbed "Texas Hold 'Em."

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff explained the results during a Senate hearing in 2005. "We prioritized the existing space, dedicated bed space and began detaining and removing all of the illegal Brazilians we apprehended," said Mr. Chertoff.

"The word spread surprisingly swiftly; within its first thirty days, the operation had already begun to deter illegal border crossings by Brazilians. In fact, the number of Brazilians apprehended dropped by 50%. After 60 days, the rate of Brazilian illegal immigration through this sector was down 90%, and it is still significantly depressed all across the border. In short, we learned that a concentrated effort of removal can actually discourage illegal entries by non-Mexicans on the southwest border."

If the Obama administration is serious about fixing the problem instead of using the issue to score political points, it will send the same message to Guatemala that the previous administration sent to Brazil. The sending countries are responding to incentives, so let's put the right incentives in place.

Article originally printed in the Wall Street Journal

Ben Ferro