Recent Op-Eds

The Status Quo at the Border Must Change

By Sen. John Thune

February 3, 2023

For two years now, a crisis has been raging along our southern border. 4.5 million illegal immigrants have been apprehended at the border, and another 1.2 million migrants have evaded capture while entering the United States. At the same time, the number of individuals on the terrorist watch list arrested at the border and the number of migrants who die attempting to enter the country have reached record highs. The border is clearly in crisis, but until recently, President Biden acted as if this crisis didn’t exist.

Two years ago the border was significantly more secure. It took time, but through a series of commonsense measures that included enforcing the law, stopping border crossers, and discouraging illegal immigration in the first place, the previous administration made real progress to attain operational control of the nearly 2,000-mile long border. But, on his first day in office, President Biden scrapped many of his predecessor’s policies. The effect of his actions was to declare that the United States’ border was effectively open. Unsurprisingly, a sea change occurred and border crossings shot up.

While the border crisis has overwhelmed border patrol and local resources in border communities, its impact reaches across the country. Influxes of illegal immigrants have strained the resources of cities from Denver to New York. Drugs, especially fentanyl, have come across the border and taken lives in communities across the country. In fact, fentanyl overdose is the leading cause of death for U.S. adults ages 18-45. Here in South Dakota, about as far from the southern border as you can get, the Minnehaha County sheriff estimates that 90 percent of fentanyl and methamphetamines in our state comes from Mexico, which recently surpassed China as the leading source of fentanyl.

To stem the tide of illegal immigrants and illegal drugs entering our country, we must secure the border. This depends foremost on the president being willing to enforce the laws currently on the books. Without executive leadership, even new laws to secure the border will fail to meaningfully deter individuals from making a dangerous journey that lines the pockets of coyotes and cartels. As long as illegal pathways are viable, we can expect these recent trends to continue.

We also need to ensure that legitimate, legal immigration is a realistic option for those fleeing persecution, pursuing the American dream, or seeking seasonal economic opportunity. I’ve repeatedly introduced legislation to open up opportunities for individuals to work in the United States when employers can’t find enough domestic labor. These programs help fill the need for supplemental workers in South Dakota, where unemployment is 2.3 percent and many business owners will tell you they just can’t find enough local workers. Ensuring our visa programs are agile enough to deliver labor relief to local businesses is one way we can enable economic growth through legal immigration.  

The status quo at the border is neither safe nor humane, not for our country and not for those entering illegally. I hope the president’s visit to the border last month, his first ever, has awakened him to this reality. For our national security, public safety, and the safety of immigrants, we need to uphold the rule of law and secure the border.