Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma), second from left, speaks about the recent "Broken Promises: Continuing Federal Funding Shortfall for Native Americans" report at a Congressional panel in Washington, D.C., on June 5, 2019. Also pictured, from left: Chickasaw Nation Lt. Gov. Jefferson Keel, Karen Narasaki of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission and Catherine Lhamon, chair of the Civil Rights Commission. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Rep. Tom Cole: America's immigration system remains broken

America Needs Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Throughout history, our nation has drawn immigrants searching for opportunity and a share in the American Dream. But just as we are a nation built largely and impressively by immigrants, America is also a nation of laws that must be obeyed and properly enforced to maintain order and ensure the safety of all citizens. Unfortunately, our existing immigration system falls far short in that regard and desperately needs comprehensive reform.

For one of the more visible signs of a broken system, just look to the humanitarian and security crisis at the southern border, where the situation is rapidly getting worse each day and money is quickly running out to handle it effectively. It was recently reported that Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) detained over 144,000 migrants at the southern border in May. During the same month a year ago, CBP apprehended roughly 52,000 individuals. Though that was a staggering number at the time, it pales in comparison to the latest report.

The surge of individuals trying to enter the United States is overwhelming our resources. Holding facilities are overflowing, and law enforcement has requested more help. Border patrol facilities are beyond capacity. Detention centers run by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are full. Even non-profit facilities are spread thin in offering support and assistance.

Managing the consequences of a problem cannot and will not solve the actual problem. But currently, some involved in managing the situation at our border don’t even have the adequate resources to do so. In response, President Trump recently made a reasonable funding request for immediate aid, including money to process and care for the vulnerable unaccompanied children arriving.

Unfortunately, House and Senate Democrats have so far refused to direct a single dollar to address the ongoing crisis – most recently by not including the president’s request in an emergency and disaster relief package passed in Congress last week. While Democrats claim they care about the livelihood of children seeking entry, they won’t approve the funds necessary to appropriately feed, house, clothe and provide for medical care. Unless Democrats decide to act in a bipartisan way, it’s not a matter of if but when money will run out and lead to a catastrophic humanitarian disaster.

Apart from providing resources for immediate humanitarian needs, lawmakers must work together on long-term fixes for the broken system. That can only happen through comprehensive reform.

A few weeks ago, President Trump unveiled a commonsense proposal that includes solutions to secure the border and ensure a fair and lawful entry process for new immigrant residents. I applaud his continued focus on solving problems with the system and seeking to preserve America’s great standing and leadership in the world.

Unfortunately, Democrats have yet to engage with Republicans on the immigration reforms that the American people want and need. Just last week, House Democrats instead wasted valuable time on a partisan bill that should be debated within the context of a larger immigration reform effort.

Misleadingly titled the American Dream and Promise Act, H.R.6, would grant mass legalization to millions of illegal residents – particularly those under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. To be clear, I agree with my Democratic colleagues that we need a solution for these children who were – by no fault of their own – brought into the United States illegally.

However, any sort of DACA fix should not be standalone. Rather, DACA should be considered as part of comprehensive reform that puts America first by strengthening security at the border, improving enforcement of existing law and making the system fairer and more just for all.

Especially in divided government, successful immigration reform requires bipartisanship – something we have yet to see from Democrats in the immigration debate thus far. Despite the current track record, I remain hopeful that Democrats will eventually come to the table to negotiate comprehensive immigration reform that can pass the Republican-led Senate, receive the president’s signature and benefit the American people.

Tom Cole, a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, is serving his eighth term in Congress as the elected representative of Oklahoma's 4th Congressional District. He is recognized as an advocate for taxpayers and small business, a proponent for a strong national defense and a leader in promoting biomedical research. He is considered the foremost expert in the House on issues dealing with Native Americans and tribal governments. He and his wife, Ellen, have one son, Mason, and reside in Moore, Oklahoma.

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