Jan 12, 2019, 2:22 PM ET

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


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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  • mrphilbert

    Only when pigs fly will drumpf say anything that is comprehensive and thoughtful. Bosert could have distilled his whole article to that.

  • E Just

    "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."
    Exactly. This is the debate we should be having. The debate isn't about whether immigrants are "good" or "bad". They are no different than people anywhere else. It isn't about whether they are poor or rich. There are rich and poor people all over the world. It isn't about a wall. A wall won't make any difference if we don't have the honest discussions about policy.
    The debate should be about numbers. How many immigrants should we allow while protecting unskilled workers in our own country, maintaining our infrastructure, helping our poor neighbors, and preserving our environment? What should the United States look like in 50 years? How many additional Chicagos should we add every 3 years or should we have sustainable immigration levels?
    Until we have an honest discussion about that, this problem will never be solved.

  • David Hoffman

    A statement without details. He might have just said rainbows are nice.

  • Richard Leblanc

    I don't even know why this is an issue. Don't people build a fence in their back yards when they buy a new house? They have border security on the southern Mexico border and if anyone wants to compare Canada to Mexico we need to sit down and have a little talk about the birds and the bees. The US has the right to do whatever it wants with it's southern border. All this yapping is another smoke screen like all the Russian agents under Trumps bed. Meanwhile no one wants to talk about important things like jobs and rebuilding America's manufacturing base. The granola crunching, Birkenstock clad, bicycle ringing social engineers want your kids to work for Xi as his personal towel boy. That's an issue Americans can sink their teeth into unless you want your kids to do that. If so I hear wannabe comrades can still buy an airline ticket today just leave your American made granola bar behind. You can do 50 years there for importing Kellogg.

  • bannerstoned

    The sticking point is, should the US be able to set standards about who and where? Or should it be determined by those who are most willing to commit a crime or walk the farthest?

    We need immigration, absolutely, but we should have some saw in who gets to stay.

  • Hank R

    A reasonable article.

  • subtext9

    Cruz's beard! Reagan's ghost! 42 percent of Americans support Trump's impossible, 7th century BC technology border wall! When Kanye appears with Trump on the funding Telethon, will they be able to stay on message? What luxury personal items will Kanye and Trump buy with all of the money they raise? Who is the little guy running our government, and why does he need a Russian to English translator?

  • NewsJunkie12

    Fix yer stupid website, abc!

  • Alex Ross

    Alex Ross 5 hours ago
    Trump: I DEMAND 5.7 Billion!
    Pelosi: No
    Trump: Bye! You don't know how to negotiate

    That REALLY happened!

  • Alex Ross

    800,000 people now know how Trump's Casino and Real Estate contractors felt.

  • Alex Ross

    Border security is indeed a COMPLEX problem, and Trump handles it like a simpleton.

    It's what he does.

  • Fred

    no mention of SOA/Whinsec ...interesting, they have a role to play in this fiasco.

  • Anthony

    The author is wrong. A comprehensive and thoughtful solution is not worth a government shutdown. A comprehensive and thoughtful solution does not require a government shutdown. All it requires is thought. All thinking people understand that a wall is ineffective and waste of money. If you build a 30-foot tall wall, people would just use 31-foot ladders.

    According to Trump's Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Border Patrol arrested more people at the U.S. Mexico border under Obama in 2016 than it did under Trump in 2017 or 2018. Obama did not need a new wall that Mexico would pay for or a government shutdown to get the job done. Trump should shut up and enforce the existing immigration laws, instead of holding 800,000 government workers hostage and waiting for a wall.