The horrific death of at least 10 immigrants sneaking across Texas this month in the back of a tractor-trailer rig with no air-conditioning is a tragic reminder of the lengths people will go to in pursuit of a better life.
It’s also a grim, cautionary tale about greedy predators who stand ready to capitalize on that greatest of all human suffering — that irrepressible yearning for a better life; in this case, a shot at the American dream.
It’s small solace that the driver of that rig was arrested and charged Monday with illegally transporting the immigrants, nearly three dozen of whom were found in a Wal-Mart parking lot in San Antonio.
The question we all should ponder now is this: What can we do to stave off such tragedies, and to shut down sinister underground enterprises that exploit a vulnerable, yet steady stream of desperate souls?
Telling people to come into the country legally doesn’t work. Those paths are few. And as the ringleaders of these human smuggling rackets well know, desperate people do desperate things.
That’s why we find the rhetoric from Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and other immigration saber-rattlers so troubling. Building walls, mass arrests, deportations — they are sound bites that play to the get-tough crowd but do little to actually solve the problem. Yes, border security is important. But the lure of a better life will forever tempt those trapped in despair.
It’s important for our leaders to be smart about immigration reform. And to look at the whole picture.
“These economic migrants are basically law-abiding people who are seeking work because their country of origin has not given them a chance to succeed,” Dennis Nixon, the CEO of International Bancshares Corp. and International Bank of Commerce in Laredo, wrote in a recent op-ed.
Nixon, who helped lead President Trump’s campaign in Texas last year, recognizes that we can curb the incentive — and the risks — for those sneaking across the border illegally by providing a pathway to legal status. Harsh and unaccommodating immigration policies are impractical and inhumane.
The flow of illegal immigrants into the United States has slowed in recent decades. The vast majority of those still coming through Mexico — many from Central America — are looking for work, not trouble. They are a pillar of our growing economy.
Turning our backs on those fleeing violence or hopeless situations, as we’ve seen with the refugee crisis in Europe, simply shifts the burden elsewhere.
Our immigration courts are clogged. Through October of last year, there were more than half a million immigration cases in the pipeline with a wait time of up to nearly three years. These are people trying to come here legally.
Unless Congress beefs up the number of immigration judges, that backlog could reach 1 million in five years, Nixon wrote.
That’s not as it should be. The consequences are dire: More opportunities for human smugglers to prey on those looking for any way out; more people sneaking into the country and living in the shadows.
It’s not the American way.