Arizona Rep Debbie Lesko: Time's Up on the Border Wall


Republicans accomplished much this Congress, but we haven’t been able to deliver on the president’s core campaign promise yet: building the wall and securing the border. I represent a border state in Congress, and while many Americans know from news reports that the problem is serious, Arizonans see the issue every day. Put simply, the border is in crisis, and it is the result of our laws and our lack of a border wall.

We only have a few days left of unified Republican control of the government, the third period since World War II. The government funding bill, slated to be considered this week, is the last train leaving the station. If we don’t get the border wall now, and close catch and release loopholes in the laws, I think that the outlook is grim for fixing the issue in divided government, under a Nancy Pelosi speakership.

The core of the problem is called “catch-and-release,” which is basically what happens when the Border Patrol apprehends someone at the border, and then is forced to release them because of loose laws regarding entry into the United States. The main loophole that illegal aliens use to achieve this outcome are the asylum laws, which allow someone to claim that if they have a “credible fear” of persecution in their home country, to go through a lengthy removal process that can take years. The number of credible fear claims grew from 5,000 in 2009 to 94,000 in 2016, a 19-fold increase.

The asylum system can’t keep up, with the backlog doubling in the last five years, and slated to double yet again, to nearly 1.5 million people. In the meantime, asylum applicants basically get to live in the U.S. while their cases are being adjudicated, turning the asylum system into a form of slow-motion amnesty for hundreds of thousands of aliens. There are also loopholes in well-intentioned laws and court rulings by activist liberal judges that exacerbate the problem further. We’ve seen, in the last two years, more than a quarter million people caught and released, and the problem is getting worse.

That’s the legal part of the equation. The physical infrastructure part of the equation is, of course, the president’s wall. Walls work–when Israel built its border wall, they saw a 99 percent reduction in illegal border crossings. The fencing that is in place at the U.S. border has had a similar effect — San Diego, El Paso, Tucson and Yuma, all saw 90+ percent reductions in illegal border crossings after their fences were built. We can do the same on the rest of the border where physical fences make sense.

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America needs Congress to fix this problem. Right now, the president is prohibited by law from building his wall. Without additional, unrestricted funds being added to the year-end funding bill, the president will most likely not be able to proceed. Kicking the can till February, which is the current plan, will only strengthen Nancy Pelosi’s negotiating position.

Now is the time to get this done, and live up to the promises that were made to the American people. I’m hopeful that if we fight hard enough to push for securing the border and closing the loopholes, we’ll get it done.

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Congresswoman Debbie Lesko represents Arizona's 8th Congressional District in Congress. She is a member of the House Homeland Security Committee.