A new Gallup poll says 23% of Americans believe immigration is the most important problem facing the nation. That number's been rising and is now at the highest level since Gallup began recording mentions of the issue in 1993.
It's not hard to analyze the nation's interest. A record number of people from Central America have been trying to cross the southern border into the United States to seek asylum. Detention centers are jammed. The immigration system is overwhelmed.
Americans are concerned. How about you, Congress?
The next two weeks bring an opportunity for the House and Senate to agree on a $4.5 billion emergency spending package to better care for people in detention. There were alarming news reports last week about a temporary holding facility in Clint, Texas, where some children slept on floors under thin blankets, hadn't bathed and didn't have toothbrushes.
The two-week deadline is both a reflection of the congressional calendar -- the July Fourth break approaches -- and the nasty state of play involving President Donald Trump and Democrats amid the 2020 election campaign.
As part of Trump's effort to crack down on illegal immigration, he vowed last week to begin the process of deporting "millions of illegal aliens," a wildly exaggerated threat that would be impossible to execute. Trump's backup plan, disclosed a few days later, involved Immigration and Customs Enforcement targeting some 2,000 people whose cases had been heard and who had received deportation orders. Raids had been set to start on Sunday in about 10 cities, including Chicago, but on Saturday Trump said he'd delay for two weeks to give Congress a chance to work out tighter rules for managing the asylum process to stem the flow of migrants at the border.
A few words about Trump's threatened raids: His uncaring tone and seeming lack of regard for the legal process set off panic in many communities. Trump also gave political opponents an opening to pounce on the government's cruel treatment of children. Mayor Lori Lightfoot opposed the raids, saying Chicago "will always be a welcoming city." She told Trump to "back off." Ald. Rossana Rodriguez, 33rd, said: "We believe one immigrant taken from the community is too many."
Comments like those muddy the waters. Cities cannot be in the business of defying federal immigration law. Legal detentions and deportations are necessary parts of the immigration system. Enforcement is a deterrent. What is in place, appropriately, in Chicago is a so-called sanctuary city policy, in which police stick to fighting crime and avoid getting involved in immigration enforcement. The Chicago Police Department does this because helping ICE would make immigrants less likely to report crimes or help as witnesses. That would make the city less safe.
Immigration raids aren't a newly devised practice. And neither, by the way is aggressive use of deportation. According to Axios, the level of deportations during the early years of President Barack Obama's administration was higher than it's been under Trump. The difference is Trump used his bully pulpit to announce impending raids, which sowed panic. He should have allowed ICE some quiet space in which to do its job.
Now it's time for Congress to act. Caring for people in detention costs a lot. Trump wants to tighten asylum rules, and there may be room to maneuver on that front: Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham and Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin reportedly have discussed reforms.
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