Immigration should be a priority for Congress. Yet, this year, migration management has defaulted to the hands of the courts as Congress stalls to legislate. All the while, the communities at the heart of these turbulent fluctuations in U.S. immigration policy (or lack thereof) face oppression and inhumanity daily.
In October, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program unlawful, sending hundreds of thousands of people’s lives and status into more uncertainty. Created by the Obama administration in 2012, DACA provides protection for undocumented individuals who arrived in the United States as children (Dreamers), safeguarding them from deportation and offering work authorization. The program has been in jeopardy throughout the Trump and Biden administrations.
For more than two decades, legislators have pitted protections for Dreamers against increased border security measures, where attempts are escalating after the D.C. District Court ended Title 42 just weeks after the DACA decision. In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Title 42, an obscure provision of public health law, was used by the Trump administration to refuse migrants seeking safety in the United States. Officials expelled more than 2.4 million people back to Mexico or their home countries.
Then on Monday, with pressures again mounting at the border, Chief Justice John Roberts put a temporary hold on Title 42’s termination.
Adding to the chaos, earlier this year, Republican governors began spending millions of taxpayer dollars busing migrants to cities in states governed by Democrats in high-profile political stunts.
Each of these examples share a common thread: the United States is not investing in solutions to meet the specific migration scenarios we are facing in the southern border. To this end, the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) and Friends Place on Capitol Hill have taken active roles in helping resolve these migration injustices—at the advocacy level and on the front lines.
Believing proximity and awareness must inform our advocacy, several of us at FCNL recently visited the border towns of El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. The fortitude of border communities was clear. The need for federal reform was stark.
Once people are released by Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), there is no set system for service to help them. On the ground, local agencies and nonprofits offer support in all the ways the federal government is falling short. This response ranges from food, clothing, and temporary shelter to medical support, legal assistance, and serving as a resource to help map out the next steps on their journey.
Where the federal government was involved, enforcement took precedence, even if CBP agents cited a need for more resources to support humanitarian efforts, counter root causes, and facilitate unified federal coordination.
Similarly, in D.C., local agencies have had to adapt quickly to the influx of individuals arriving by buses from Arizona and Texas. Since April, Friends Place on Capitol Hill got involved as part of the Solidarity Mutual Aid Network to provide temporary housing, meals, transportation, and supplies to 549 migrants. We also testified to the city council earlier this year, requesting that migrants not be excluded from accessing homeless services due to their status.
In both instances—at the border and in D.C.—the U.S. federal government was conspicuously under-involved. Abdicating these responsibilities amounts to neglect of our legal and moral obligations to welcome people fleeing persecution and oppression.
Movement is a natural part of the human experience. Penalizing migration, preventing people from accessing resources for their basic human needs, obstructing their socioeconomic mobility, and forcing them to live in the shadows is not how to love thy neighbor.
While these challenges are indeed complex, Congress needs to step up and stop playing political chess that only amounts to instability, harm, and self-orchestrated chaos. The question is: will lawmakers rise to the occasion?
Anika Forrest leads the Friends Committee on National Legislation’s domestic policy team, and Sarah Johnson is the director of Friends Place on Capitol Hill.
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