Bipartisan immigration bill offers border security solutions instead of photo ops • Georgia Recorder

As a father of two daughters, I look at photos of Laken Riley and her family and feel sadness. I feel anger. It's hard to imagine losing a child like this, the victim of a seemingly random, brutal murder.

It helps no one that the man charged in Riley's death, Jose Ibarra, is being used to feed a narrative of rampaging hordes of criminals pouring across our country's southern border, a narrative that is as false as it is dangerous.

We have a serious border problem. With jobs plentiful and unemployment at record lows, a booming economy is drawing desperate people north and overwhelming the resources available to stop them. We are also trying to manage this influx using immigration laws that have not been updated in a generation due to the ongoing political stalemate in Washington.

But overall, violent crime is down significantly from COVID-era highs, and study after study has confirmed that immigrants, including undocumented immigrants, commit fewer crimes than native-born U.S. citizens. For example, in a study published by the National Academy of Sciences, researchers examined six years of arrest records compiled by the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Your conclusion?

“We find that undocumented immigrants have significantly lower crime rates than native-born citizens and legal immigrants for a range of crimes. Compared to undocumented immigrants, U.S.-born citizens are more than two times more likely to be arrested for violent crimes, two and a half times more likely to be arrested for drug crimes, and two and a half times more likely to be arrested for property crimes more than four times higher.

This is not intended to be an argument against strengthening our southern border and overhauling immigration policy. It's just a reminder that facts matter and that undocumented immigrants aren't “poisoning the blood of our nation,” as Donald Trump put it.

According to our current knowledge, Ibarra is a migrant from Venezuela who fled the socialist dictatorship of that country and has been in the United States as an asylum seeker since 2022. Under longstanding federal law, people who manage to enter the United States have the right to seek asylum if they fear persecution in their country of origin.

However, the system created to assess whether such claims of persecution are justified is overwhelmed. The backlog of unprocessed asylum applications is around three million and growing rapidly, and it now takes five to seven years for such applications to be either approved or rejected. Even asylum seekers who, like Ibarra, have been arrested for minor crimes are rarely deported because federal authorities lack the resources and manpower to do so. You have more important things to do.

This is the system that allowed Ibarra to remain in the United States. If the murder charges against him are valid, then it is the system that has failed Laken Riley and her family, with tragic consequences.

Given what we know about Ibarra's background in particular and the immigration system in general, how might we attempt to address the problem?

What if we added 100 immigration judge teams to help clear the backlog of asylum applications and deport migrants with unfounded claims more quickly?

We currently employ 1,000 asylum officers; What if we hired more than 4,000 additional asylum officers while significantly expanding their powers to make quick decisions about who goes and who stays?

We know that Ibarra was released by immigration officials because they had no place to hold him: what if we also added 10,000 detention beds, generally used to house single men, and at the same time the asylum restrictions would tighten, meaning far fewer people would be eligible?

We had the opportunity to find out. The Senate's bipartisan immigration bill, which was doomed to fail at Trump's insistence, would have accomplished all of this and more. Overall, the goal of these changes negotiated by Republicans and Democrats was to shorten the time it takes to process asylum claims to six months from the current five to seven years.

Instead, Congress does nothing on Trump's demands.

If you live in Venezuela, Nicaragua, or other chaotic countries, think about what impact this would have had on your incentive structure. Today, you might be willing to trek through jungles and deserts and pay all your savings to the cartels to smuggle you into the United States, knowing that you will live here for five to seven years before considering your asylum application is decided at all.

But if you know that you will only spend six months in the US, if you know that you may be detained the entire time, and that your application will probably end up being rejected and you will be sent back home quickly, your cost-benefit Analysis changes. (The Senate bill would also have provided funding to significantly increase the number of flights that deport illegal immigrants back to their home countries.)

These are changes that can make a difference and stifle the flow of migrants north. They would certainly have been far more effective than photo ops with showboats at the border or sending your state's National Guard to be stationed in the Texas desert for months as a costly public relations gesture.

Had there been a vote in the House and Senate, the bipartisan Senate bill would have passed fairly easily. But as long as certain politicians find it useful to act as if our immigration problems are a “deep state conspiracy” aimed at stealing the country from “real Americans” rather than a solvable policy challenge, we will continue get nowhere.