Vice President, Immigration Policy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
February 02, 2024
The crisis on the U.S.–Mexico border has been a significant public policy problem for several years now. In the past three fiscal years, the U.S. has set three new records for people crossing our southern border without the authorization to do so. Similarly, the number of people entering the country illegally also hit new records for the past three years.
This chaotic situation should be unacceptable to all of our elected leaders, as it is causing untold human suffering and significant economic harm to businesses across the country. Here are a few key reasons Congress and the President cannot allow this current state of affairs to be perpetuated by their lack of action and inability to compromise.
1. Economic Disruption Caused by Border Crisis
The ongoing crisis on our southern border has caused significant economic disruptions for many American businesses. The number of people seeking to enter the country without the authorization to do so has been elevated to such an extent for so long that we’ve seen several port closures, which have had significant ripple effects across the American economy.
Recent years have seen closures or crossing limitations implemented at the border crossings at El Paso, Eagle Pass, Lukeville, and San Ysidro. For example, the closure of the Eagle Pass rail gateway last fall cost an estimated $2.32 million per day. Even worse, the estimated economic impact of the shutdowns of Eagle Pass and El Paso during the winter was a $200 million daily loss for the U.S. economy. In addition, we’ve heard from many businesses confronting the challenges caused by these port closures. The time it took for legal entrants to cross into southern Arizona increased from 30 minutes to roughly 2-3 hours during the recent Lukeville port closure.
Local businesses took a significant hit during the holiday season with the decline of individuals legally crossing into the U.S. due to the inability to confront the crisis on our southern border. Housing needs and the provision of healthcare, particularly in border regions, are significant drains on resources for state and local governments. Not addressing these issues now all but guarantees that these problems will be larger and tougher to solve when they are addressed later on down the road.
2. Preserving the Status Quo Preserves Inhumane Immigration Practices
Many elected officials decry the untold human suffering over the past several years, and rightfully so. However, it is disconcerting when those elected officials and their supporters actively oppose bipartisan efforts to fix these serious public policy problems. Not addressing these issues means there is no end in sight to the widespread reports of rape and sexual violence being perpetrated upon migrant women and children seeking to come to the U.S. It also means that we will likely see other cases of migrants dying on their dangerous journey to our country. Our woefully insufficient border security measures and our outdated asylum laws are directly contributing to the problems associated with these current migratory patterns and practices. Changes are long overdue, and they are desperately needed today.
3. Fentanyl Will Continue to Pour into the U.S.
Through last December, the federal government intercepted over 27,000 pounds of fentanyl coming into the U.S. on our southern border. These drugs are incredibly lethal, as evidenced by the growing number of overdose deaths. In 2022, 73,654 deaths in the U.S. were attributed to a fentanyl overdose, and over a quarter of a million people have died from a fentanyl overdose since 2018. Most of the fentanyl smuggled into the United States from Mexico is made from fentanyl precursor chemicals from China. A recent study by Yale University and the Mayo Clinic found that fentanyl deaths tripled from 2016 to 2021. Failing to address the situation on our border will only perpetuate the status quo that has taken too many American lives.
4. Executive Actions Alone Are Insufficient to Address Problems on the Border
There is no denying that regulatory policies have played a role in allowing the current crisis on our southern border to metastasize in the manner that it has. However, many people who claim that the President has the authority to fix these problems on his own are simply wrong when they make these assertions. The prior administration pursued significantly different regulatory policies to address the challenges on our southern border than those that are in place today, and the U.S. still saw border apprehensions double from 2018 to 2019. While the number of illegal entrants back then was lower than what we’re seeing today, there were still significant problems on our border due to a lack of security resources and our outdated asylum laws. In fact, the problems were so extensive that the prior administration acknowledged on multiple occasions that legislation was needed to properly address these problems. The need for legislation to address these problems has not gone away; in fact, legislative fixes are needed now more than ever.
5. Broader Changes to Immigration System Can't Happen Amid Current Crisis
Our legal immigration system has many shortcomings, and the business community across the country wants to address all of them in due course. However, there simply is no way for the federal government to enact permanent changes to visa quotas or create new programs to tackle acute workforce challenges until the problems on our southern border are under control.
The bottom line here is that our country cannot wait any longer to address the crisis on our southern border. This chaotic status quo is unsustainable, and the longer it takes for our elected officials to address the crisis, the more economic harm and human suffering will occur. Congressional action on the border is needed to ensure the safety and security of all Americans. The business community is encouraged by the attention that Congress has given to these issues recently, but we need more than talk to secure the border; we need action, and we need it now.
About the authors
Jon currently serves as the Vice President of Immigration Policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He joined the Chamber in June 2014. He works with Chamber member companies to form Chamber policy positions on various issues and he advocates for sensible immigration policies before Congress and the executive branch agencies.