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Editorial: Border staredown – nation needs its dug-in leaders to step up and find an immigration compromise

A group of 247 migrants crossed the border illegally in Antelope Wells and turned themselves in to Border Patrol agents just after midnight Jan. 16. The majority of those taken into custody are Central American parents with children and unaccompanied minors, according to Border Patrol. (Source: U.S. Border Patrol)

Several hundred migrants climb over a small fence at the U.S.-Mexico border just after midnight. The fence, designed to stop vehicles, isn’t much of a deterrent. Some of the migrants toss belongings, while others pass children, over the fence.

About the same time, not far away, “drug mules” try to move contraband across the border. They are hoping to use the movement of migrants as a distraction.

This isn’t a narrative pushed by President Trump. It happened this month at Antelope Wells, N.M. The crossing was caught on video, and the video was released by the Border Patrol a couple of days after it happened. The group numbered 247. Less than 48 hours later, Border Patrol agents encountered another 115 at the same location. And just this past Thursday, more than 300 migrants turned themselves in to Border Patrol there.

Included in the influx of families crossing the New Mexico-Mexico border was 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin, who died in an El Paso hospital after making the crossing with her father last month. Her death, and that of 8-year-old Felipe Gomez Alonzo, who died in a New Mexico hospital after crossing with his father near El Paso, still aren’t discouraging migrants from bringing children on the perilous journey.

To add to the tragedy, many of the migrant families are embarking with the intent of seeking asylum even though few will qualify. Most acknowledge they are fleeing poverty in search of a better life, rather than meeting the asylum bar of fleeing danger. In reality, that means most will end up being tagged for deportation at some point.

When do we as a nation step up to discourage these crossings that too often end in heartbreak?

Meanwhile, north of the border, 800,000 federal workers have been going without paychecks. They aren’t the only ones suffering from the government shutdown. The ripple effect has hurt contractors, small businesses and the overall economy.

President Trump and House and Senate leaders on Friday finally agreed to end the shutdown for three weeks and negotiate on border issues. This is an opportunity not to be wasted by the continued refusal to compromise we’ve seen.

Trump earlier offered temporary status for 700,000 Dreamers and 300,000 other undocumented residents in return for $5.7 billion in border security money, including for barriers. That’s an opening bid. But rather than come back with a counter, the Democrats – including our own delegation – insisted on playing politics, rejecting it out of hand because of their dislike of Trump.

There is no doubt a larger barrier – a fence or a wall – in strategic areas can serve as a deterrent to migrants who are choosing dangerous, remote places to enter this country. According to Brandon Judd, president of the union for Border Patrol Agents, a survey of 700 agents in Tucson and Laredo, Texas, found 90 percent supported a wall or barrier system to secure the border.

Trump’s latest proposals no longer called for a “concrete wall from sea to shining sea,” but steel barriers in strategic places. And while Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi labels a wall “immoral,” Democrats have funded such border barriers before. In 2006, they endorsed a bipartisan measure to provide fencing along 700 miles of the border. That included Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and then-Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. According to Customs and Border Protection, the number of migrants crossing illegally significantly declined where there are barriers.

In the meantime, criminal organizations use the smuggling of migrants to shield transportation of illegal narcotics across the border. On the night the 247 crossed, Border Patrol agents seized 265 pounds of marijuana and arrested two suspected “drug mules” with the aid of Customs and Border Protection.

(That’s one reason why it’s so important to keep our National Guard troops there. They play a crucial role, handling vehicle maintenance, horse care and surveillance cameras so Border Patrol agents can focus on the influx of immigrants.)

As for finally doing right by the Dreamers, these are the young adults brought here as babies, toddlers or children by their immigrant parents, forced to live in a fog of uncertainty as they go to school, work and raise families while they wait for the U.S. to stop kicking the can and provide permanent green cards or a path to citizenship.

Despite all the posturing in D.C. and photo ops at the border, this is real life in New Mexico, folks. It’s time our leaders – especially N.M.’s congressional delegation – start compromising.

While constructing barriers at Antelope Wells and other parts of the border are clearly just a piece of the solution, it’s a start to limiting the number of death trips across the desert. Trump has also included funding for more equipment, better technology, more border agents and immigration judges – things Democrats have been asking for.

So far, Democrats have countered with a proposal that refuses to include even one inch of “wall,” which is actually steel fencing or other barriers. That is a mistake. New Mexico is taking in hundreds more people in facilities and providing them with medical care Democratic lawmakers have labeled sub-standard. How can anyone with a conscience let that continue?

And the notion that the Border Patrol can provide extensive medical care to hundreds of migrants at a remote spot in the desert is fantasy. As Most New Mexicans can tell you, medical resources here are stretched thin to begin with.

Each party had the chance to reform immigration when it had control of the government, and each blew it. Now, impoverished migrant families, federal workers, thousands of young Dreamers and local economies are paying the price.

Both Trump and Democrats act like the shutdown is the exclusive responsibility of the other. It’s not. It took two to shut it down, and it’s time to end it, once and for all. We have three weeks. Let’s make it count.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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