Why we need to trade the 'wall' for the 'door': COLUMN

ABC News contributor Tom Bossert makes the case for reform and a barrier.

ByTom Bossert
January 12, 2019, 2:22 PM

We desperately need to reform our immigration system and the ability to control our Southern border (and other entry points).

We might as well negotiate for both.

The solution does require additional physical barrier, as well as multiple changes in immigration law. We need these reforms for several reasons, not just the ancillary crime, drugs and human trafficking that come with illegal immigration from South and Central America.

The issue is complicated and the solutions are complex.

Good people’s lives can be deeply affected by changes on both sides of the border and elsewhere. Nevertheless, if we intend to sort the good from the bad prior to entry, and put a cap on the total number of good people we can take each year, we need clear rules and a controlled way to screen and sort.

If there were a comprehensive and thoughtful solution on the table, it would be worth a government shutdown. Sometimes you have to be hard-nosed to pass a major reform.

Unfortunately, that’s not happening for some reason. Instead, we have reprised the debate from 2005 that led to the failed 2006 Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act.

In other words, we are solely focused on U.S.-Mexico border security, despite efforts to expand the discussion by Vice President Mike Pence and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

I have come to disagree with the formulation of securing the border first and debating legal immigration reforms second.

We’ve tried that. While that sequence makes sense logically, there is too much distrust on both sides politically. Democrats think President Trump wants to stop illegal and legal immigration, despite his denial.

Independent of all the unrelated demands I would make in this negotiation if I were a Democrat, I would trade the "wall" for the "door." That is, implement policies related to increased numbers, and defined qualities and types of migrants who can enter legally, along with the processing and screening capacity to make those outcomes achievable.

While the president seems to still enjoy broad support for trying to control the border, he could overplay the security angle in the coming weeks if he’s not careful. The Democrats, who are trying to look just as tough on security, and failing, could be equally exposed for playing shutdown politics while missing their chance for immigration reform benefiting economic migrants.

Few people -- only one in 10 -- actually end up qualifying for asylum. This is really a debate over how many often poor, unskilled and often uneducated laborers we want to let into our country every year, and how much of their family they can bring with them.

At the current pace, we allow approximately 1 million legal immigrants a year, about 600,000 of whom are “change of status” switchers who are already in the U.S. and become legal.

That means we allow enough immigrants into our country legally to form a new Chicago every three years. The number of undocumented immigrants adds an unknown additional number.

All told, we now have just over 37 million legal immigrants in the U.S. right now. That puts the issue into perspective.

They come from all over the globe. A couple of years ago, immigrants from China and India combined supplanted Mexico as the largest block.

At a federal level, many politicians see immigrants, on one hand, as future Democratic voters. On the other hand, many see them as wage-suppressing competition to blue-collar, American-born workers (many of whom are Trump voters).

Neither is entirely accurate, or complete.

In the main, immigrants are good, additive contributors to our society. But, legal entrants and actual asylum candidates are being unfairly affected by those who come illegally and by those who make fraudulent claims.

On top of that, state and local governments face strains on their infrastructure (schools, hospitals, housing supply, etc.) and have no say in the matter. Meanwhile, the Latino population is growing in size and spirit, and bringing new business growth, diversity and opportunity.

There seems to be plenty of room for compromise.

The Senate must lead the way and offer creative solutions. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is hopelessly constrained by her new class of freshman.

Who knows, we could still get comprehensive immigration reform out of this unorthodox shutdown.

I am an optimist.

Tom Bossert, a former homeland security adviser to President Donald Trump, is an ABC News contributor. The opinions in this column do not necessarily reflect those of ABC News.

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