E.g., 12/04/2020
E.g., 12/04/2020

Rethinking the U.S.-Mexico Border Immigration Enforcement System: A Policy Road Map

Policy Briefs
October 2020

Rethinking the U.S.-Mexico Border Immigration Enforcement System: A Policy Road Map

The immigration enforcement regime at the U.S.-Mexico border offers a vivid example of how existing policies, laws, and resource investments are markedly out of step with new migration realities and future needs. A border enforcement system designed to address the once-dominant flows of single adults from Mexico seeking to enter the United States illegally for work is ill prepared to deal with more complex mixed flows of families and unaccompanied children from Central America, some seeking humanitarian protection, others opportunity.

Consistent with its world view of immigration as threat, the Trump administration has responded by shutting down any meaningful access to humanitarian protection and asylum, by invoking a public health authority to expel more than 205,000 arrivals during the COVID-19 pandemic, and by constructing hundreds of miles of border barriers. Yet these strategies cannot succeed over the long term, nor are they consistent with U.S. law and international agreements and principles on protection.

In this road map, MPI Senior Fellow and former U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) Commissioner Doris Meissner outlines some of the steps to a more effective approach, one that builds on border management as an enduring function. Rather than a sole focus on thwarting illegal arrivals, successful border management requires cross-agency and cross-governmental collaboration that marries effective border security with fair, humane enforcement.

This report is part of MPI’s multiyear Rethinking U.S. Immigration Policy initiative, which is generating a big-picture, evidence-driven vision for the role immigration can and should play in America’s future. To learn more about the initiative and read related research, check out the initiative’s home page.

Table of Contents 

1  Managing Borders
A. Changed, Mixed Flows
B. The Case for a Network of Multiagency Reception Centers
C. Political Asylum and the Immigration Courts
D. Alternatives to Detention
E. Addressing the Drivers of Central American Flows

2  Rethinking Immigration Governance at DHS

3  Conclusion