Imagine beginning a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle by dumping the pieces out and then putting 100 of them back in the box and taping the lid shut. You’ll never solve that puzzle, and the reason won’t be a mystery.

This is how we are treating the humanitarian crisis at our southern border. It is a solvable problem but will never be fixed if we ignore certain pieces. The reason so many pieces are ignored goes beyond electoral politics to the heart of who we are.

You can imagine how frustrating this is for immigration advocates, and especially for the ministries and nonprofits meeting the needs of thousands of migrants on the border. 

Earlier this year, Fellowship Southwest joined a small group of faith-based advocates and service providers, including leaders from Team Brownsville, for a march and prayer vigil in solidarity with migrants. We gathered in a small park in Brownsville, Texas, across the street from where asylum seekers are released after being processed by Customs and Border Patrol (CBP).

We prayed and spoke to members of the press, urging Congress and the president to hear the voices of migrants and not impose drastic restrictions on asylum. We then walked across the international bridge into Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico. 

As we walked off the bridge, we passed a line of approximately one hundred people, many of them Haitians, waiting for their appointment to present themselves to CBP and begin the asylum process.

We were then led by Alma Ruth of Practice Mercy to a refugee camp I had visited numerous times. On the banks of the Rio Grande, there is a tent city of several hundred people living in dangerous, unsanitary conditions, waiting for their chance to claim asylum in the U.S. 

Fellowship Southwest provides support for a small network of pastors and churches who are meeting the needs of migrants along the border. From this camp, a few miles from the Gulf to Tijuana on the Pacific, I have met migrant families and heard their stories.

Each story is unique, but they generally fall into two categories. People decide to leave home either because of an imminent threat of cartel violence or because abject poverty has left them with little hope of change. 

The U.S. has long welcomed such populations for whom we’ve served as a refuge. Our commitment to that ideal is being tested. 

We are in a time of unprecedented global human migration. Conflict, climate change and vast inequality are driving more people to migrate than almost ever before. Our southern U.S. border is only one place experiencing an acute crisis. 

Our system for processing asylum claims was never designed to handle the current flow of migrants seeking asylum. 

There is a backlog of over three million pending cases in immigration court. After waiting for years for a final determination, less than half of those making a claim are granted asylum.

President Biden is negotiating with Congress on a funding and aid package to address the border and provide funding to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. Reportedly, the administration is open to drastic restrictions that would make the asylum process even more difficult. 

The solution to the wave asylum of seekers is not to restrict asylum but to pour resources into the infrastructure needed to provide a fair and timely process. For that to happen, we’d need a political consensus that migrants are worthy of the effort. 

We’ve also got to pick up the other pieces of the puzzle. 

We cannot fix asylum without addressing the system of legal immigration. Many migrants come from countries where the wait for a U.S. visa is decades long. While the chance of ultimately securing asylum and becoming a citizen or legal permanent resident may be slim, it is better than waiting at home to starve to death or be killed. 

Our legal immigration system needs to be updated to meet our current needs. Economists agree that we need immigrant labor. 

A declining workforce endangers essential programs like Social Security and Medicare. Based on our current population, to maintain our historic 1 percent growth rate, we would need to add nearly 4 million immigrants a year. 

Four million immigrants a year would undoubtedly strain our system, but it is not only a number our economy and current unemployment rate could handle. It is what is needed to keep our economy healthy into the future. 

By refusing to consider comprehensive immigration reform, we are not only denying our economic realities, we’re destabilizing the border. The border will be more secure when crossing illegally is no longer the best hope for desperate folks. 

We need a secure border. We should know who is coming in and stop cartels to stem the flow of illegal drugs. Our current system most often rewards cartels.

Desperate migrants stuck waiting in Mexican border towns are a target for cartel exploitation and a source of profit. Physical barriers and fortifications drive migrants to more dangerous routes often controlled by cartels who make money smuggling people across.

 The migrants I speak to don’t want to leave their home country. There would be no migration crisis if the countries of origin were safe, stable and economically viable. 

While the history of U.S. intervention in Latin America is fraught, any discussion of our border crisis must consider increasing aid and humanitarian support to countries of origin. I don’t hear that in our current debate. It is just one of the many pieces left inside the box. 

I am certain migrants will keep coming to the border. By focusing only on border security and asylum reforms, we are failing those for whom we have a moral obligation and the capacity to help. We’re also prolonging a solvable crisis and are further taxing the ministries and nonprofits committed to providing care. 

Fellowship Southwest will keep supporting them and encouraging advocacy for their cause. Unfortunately, the crisis will continue if our political leaders keep pieces of the puzzle in the box.

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