Congress claims to want border 'solutions,' but ignores practical steps that would help

Opinion: Congress says it wants undefined 'solutions' for the border. So why stall on citizenship for DACA recipients, undocumented spouses, and farm workers that would help us get there?

Ed Kissam
opinion contributor
If election-year political posturing can block practical ways to make a broken immigration system work better, how will we ever fix this problem?

The bipartisan budget compromise that was abandoned would have increased funding to combat human trafficking, better target criminal drug networks and help local communities provide emergency food and shelter to migrants.

More importantly, the compromise would have taken a first step toward fixing an underlying problem — the mounting backlog of immigration court cases.

It would have added hearing officers, staff and judges to make faster and better decisions on granting or denying asylum, as well as to adjudicate millions of other backlogged immigration cases. 

Arizona has a backlog of 8,190 cases, up from 6,982 in 2020. Each case now remains pending for an average of 984 days — close to 3 years — before getting heard.

Helping undocumented spouses is a win-win solution

As Congress reconvenes, it’s time to refocus on practical steps that offer win-win solutions for families, businesses and deserving immigrants.

A number of immigration advocacy organizations, including the American Business Immigration Coalition, American Families United and the American Immigration Lawyers’ Association, have proposed a solution that could be immediately implemented without any change in law.

The Biden administration could use its parole authority to secure legal status for almost 40,000 undocumented Arizona immigrants that are married to an American.

Nationally, it is estimated that this one step would add $16 billion per year to the U.S. economy and generate an additional $5 billion in tax revenue. Securing legal status would authorize spouses to work — an important economic benefit to their families and to local employers.  

But because of needless bureaucracy, this is not possible. Undocumented husbands or wives seeking legal status must now leave their spouse and children, return to their country of origin without any firm assurance that they will be readmitted, and then spend months waiting for backlogged consular processing.

This creates months of anxiety and economic hardship for their families.

So is allowing young people to work. Reopen DACA.

Another straightforward and practical step forward would be to enact the American Dream and Promise Act, a bipartisan bill that has been introduced a number of times. 

It would provide a pathway to steady employment and citizenship for more than 20,000 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients living and working in Arizona, many of whom now fill essential jobs.

More than 20,000 other ambitious Arizona youths could benefit who are currently blocked from securing DACA status, thanks to an arbitrary decision by a south Texas judge to block further implementation of the Obama-era program. 

Esveidy Jazmir Rodriguez Melendez, now a sophomore at Grand Canyon University who came to Arizona when she was 2, is one of them. She describes the mental toll her lack of legal status has had on her:

“It felt frustrating to be afraid of something beyond my control.”

Arizona voters passed a measure that now allows “Dreamers” like Esveidy to pay in-state college tuition. But without DACA protection, employers still can’t legally hire them. 

It makes sense to allow these youths to move onward and upward in their chosen careers.

Farmers need workers. This would help

Agriculture is a $23 billion industry in Arizona.

Providing a pathway to legal status could yield tremendous benefits for the state’s short-staffed farmers.

It also would benefit consumers by helping constrain the rising cost of fruit and vegetables. 

There is no border 'invasion':Stop using that rhetoric

The Farm Workforce Modernization Act, a bipartisan proposal first introduced in 2019, was approved in the House twice, and was reintroduced a third time last year.

The measure would provide temporary legal status and a path toward a green card for undocumented workers.  

Focus on problem-solving, not posturing

Well-informed pundits say it’s not possible to move forward with these (and other) practical proposals to make immigration policy work better for everyone. 

Perhaps that’s true in the bizarre world of congressional gamesmanship. But not in the day-to-day lives of American families and communities.

It is no surprise that seven in 10 Americans hold an unfavorable opinion of Congress.

Problem-solving should be a higher priority than exaggerating border problems and demanding undefined “solutions.”

Ed Kissam is a trustee of the Werner-Kohnstamm Family Giving Fund. He has led research studies on immigrants’ settlement in U.S. communities for more than 30 years. On X, formerly Twitter: @edkissam.

American Families United


American Families United proposes solutions to Congress and supports efforts to advance legislation that affects U.S. citizens married to foreign nationals.