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Editorial: Court asylum ruling a wake-up call to fix U.S. immigration

It’s probably a pie-in-the-sky notion, given the toxic political atmosphere in Washington, but last week’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court allowing the Trump administration’s asylum limits to take effect should be a wake-up call to politicians who so far have shown no real interest in a compromise to address illegal immigration.

The court’s ruling, with only two dissenters, allows the U.S. to begin denying asylum requests from migrants at the southern border who have traveled through Mexico or another country without seeking protection there. The decision overturned a lower court’s blocking of the rule, while the case winds its way through the court system.

And it means people from Central America, South America, Africa and elsewhere who have migrated through Mexico fleeing persecution in their native countries can no longer show up and make their first asylum claim in the United States. That makes a certain amount of sense. The doctrine of asylum permits people to flee dangerous situations at home, but it doesn’t necessarily allow them to pick where they want to go simply because economic opportunities are better there.

We don’t know what the final legal determination will be. That could take a year or two. But why wait? Ultimately, it’s the job of Congress and the president to get the country a fair immigration system that works for immigrants and our nation.

Some of the fixes are obvious and long overdue. For example, there is simply no good reason not to address the issue of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and give those who qualify under it legal status. Now.

There is no good reason for Congress to refuse funding a border wall in places where it makes sense. Democrats supported border barriers in the past when they voted for the Secure Fence Act.

Make the E-Verify system, which allows enrolled employers to confirm the eligibility of their employees to work in the U.S., accurate and mandatory.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue was in Albuquerque last week and talked about one avenue that could convey legal status on hundreds of thousands of immigrants through a guest worker program – a plan that would help industry and immigrants alike, and prevent incidents like the raid by ICE agents who recently took nearly 700 undocumented immigrants into custody at a Mississippi poultry processing plant.

“Most of these folks involved in agriculture don’t have the desire to become a citizen. They just want to come here and support their families,” Perdue said. “That’s why we think a legal guest worker program can be part of the solution.”

And a worker legalization program doesn’t need to apply only to new immigrants. Many of the millions of undocumented people already living in the U.S. who don’t want citizenship should be given the opportunity to get work permits that would allow them to come out of the shadows, and move freely back and forth from the U.S. to their home countries.

The permits wouldn’t need to automatically foreclose the possibility of citizenship. They would just mean the permit holders would need to get in line with others who are seeking to apply through legal channels. You wouldn’t get to jump the line by crossing illegally, but you wouldn’t have to live in fear of authorities or criminals who know you won’t call the cops, either.

The U.S. needs a real border, and we have long had liberal, legal immigration. But the notion that if you can get here – somehow, some way – you are entitled to stay makes both the concepts of a border and legal immigration meaningless.

Poll after poll nationally puts immigration at or near the top of the list of issues that are of most concern to Americans. And most people don’t want an open border any more than they want children separated from parents in the manner the Trump administration has done.

It’s way past time for our elected leaders to make a sensible deal here that improves the system dramatically for millions and addresses the humanitarian crisis on our southern border. Perhaps last week’s Supreme Court ruling will provide the impetus needed for politicians to put political posturing aside and find a solution.

Voters should put pressure on their elected representatives to make that happen.

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.