Border Chaos and the Failure of Congress to Enact Long-Overdue Immigration Reform

Blog Post, Nicholas V. Montalto, Chair, Steering Committee, NJ Business Immigration Coalition… Any effort to reform the legal immigration system seems stalled or blocked pending resolution of the southern border problem. What some people on the left don’t seem to appreciate is that there are large numbers of people who are prepared to exploit our current system in order to gain admission to the U.S. They are not fleeing persecution, but rather knocking on the only legal door available to them. What some people on the right don’t appreciate is how reforms to the legal immigration system can alleviate pressures on the border. Unless the two sides recognize the validity of these two positions and find ways to address these problems, there is little hope for a lasting solution to the current border crisis.

What has happened over the last decade is that millions of people, rather than entering the U.S. furtively and illegally, and accepting the deprivations of undocumented status, have turned themselves into the authorities, applied for asylum, secured work authorization, and waited years for a court hearing on their case. The wait time at the Newark court is more than 5 years – one of the worst in the country. A broken asylum system has invited hundreds of thousands of migrants to exploit the system. The U.S. now has the largest number of pending asylum applications – nearly 1.6 million – on record.

The U.S. has also failed to enact fundamental reforms of its legal immigration system since 1965. Over more than half a century, America’s position in the global economy has changed, as have the workforce needs of the American economy. Unlike most advanced economies, the U.S. only sets aside about 14% of its annual legal immigrant numbers for people needed by the American economy, with most of the rest going to family members of U.S. citizens and green card holders. In Canada, by way of contrast, the percentage of immigrants admitted to meet economic need is over 60%. Not only does the American immigration system pay minimal attention to worker shortages, the vast majority of economic admissions are only for those with college or post-graduate credentials. Thus, there is a serious mismatch between the needs of the economy and people admitted as legal immigrants. Little wonder that there are so many people showing up at the border.

The non-partisan Migration Policy Institute has just issued a report detailing several recommendations designed to reform the nation’s asylum system. One calls for substantial investments in personnel, technology, and capacity building to eliminate current application backlogs and to reduce application processing times to months, not years. Another calls for the establishment of multi-agency border processing centers, where many asylum applications could be handled by asylum case officers rather than by an overburdened immigration court system. These suggestions are consistent with those developed by the NJ Business Immigration Coalition back in 2022 when we issued a call for “people of different ideological persuasions and political affiliations to work together on immigration matters.”

As members of Congress grapple with these issues, they should be reminded that there are extreme positions on both sides of the aisle that should be rejected. Spending billions of dollars to build and maintain a medieval-style wall will not solve the problem. Nor will allowing the United States to function as a haven for all the displaced and dispossessed people of the world. Republicans should understand the critical importance of a functioning immigration system to American prosperity. Democrats should not allow continued border chaos to dominate public concern and determine future electoral outcomes.