Immigrant-rights advocates protest near the U.S.-Mexico border wall over a visit to the border by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly in San Ysidro, a district of San Diego, California, U.S., April 21, 2017.  REUTERS/Mike Blake
Immigrant-rights advocates protest near the U.S.-Mexico border wall over a visit to the border by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly in San Ysidro, a district of San Diego, California, U.S., April 21, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake
US President Donald Trump with Senator Tom Cotton. Photo: Zach Gibson/Pool via CNP
US President Donald Trump with Senator Tom Cotton. Photo: Zach Gibson/Pool via CNP

When US President Donald Trump spoke in the Rose Garden to outline his immigration policies to the American people, news broke that world-famous Chinese-American architect IM Pei had died. What a poignant situation it is for America, because the day Pei died, the country he chose to make his home introduced new proposals to tighten its immigration system.

America is known around the world as a beacon of hope, and millions of people aspire to get into the country to have a shot at the American dream. Immigrants like Ieoh Ming Pei emigrated to America with a dream and in the process, they enriched American culture and made America a stronger country. America should welcome more immigrants instead of closing its doors. While there are issues with illegal immigration, a specific solution is far more effective than a blanket solution that will shut the door to legal law-abiding immigrants.

Wars in the new era are fought in the economic sphere, so having talented citizens is what really determines the fate of countries. Many of America’s greatest companies, such as Google, have been co-founded by immigrants and without these immigrants, America will be a weaker state.

However, in spite of all that has been said, and no matter how you feel about Trump, there can be little doubt that the president genuinely has good intentions. You may disagree with his policies but you can’t deny that he genuinely feels he is doing what is best for America.

One factor contributing to America’s dysfunctional political system is that politicians on both sides of the political aisle have failed to listen to each other. The rise of cable TV has given birth to 24/7 cable politics and it encourages both political parties to demonize the other. This is encouraged and enflamed by the media reporting on both sides of the political spectrum, be it Fox News or CNN.

As a result, American politics have become extremely toxic over time, and politicians who are willing to compromise are demonized and sidelined within the political system itself. The politics of consensus have gradually broken down at the very time that America needs its political system to work to enable the country to face up to the challenges of the 21st century.

Wars in the new era are fought in the economic sphere, so having talented citizens is what really determines the fate of countries

The Republican, Democrat and independent politicians each have their own set of proposals on how to fix America’s immigration system. There can be no question that many of them are patriotic Americans and they just want the best for their country. However, a lack of consensus prevents any enactment of meaningful immigration reforms.

And the delay in enacting reforms is costly for the US as its immigration system is severely overtaxed despite congressional approval to raise the cap on the number of immigration judges that can be appointed. The Justice Department has been unable to keep up with the hiring and there is an insufficient number of judges to process cases. This result is years of backlog in processing cases and migrants are released while waiting for a hearing. This is what the critics have called the catch-and-release policy, a policy that angers many Republicans, including President Trump, as a minority of these migrants either fail to turn up for their hearing or commit crimes. A study conducted by the NGO Human Rights First found that 8% of asylum seekers failed to turn up for their court hearing. And the majority of the illegal immigrants in America are people  who have legally entered the country and then decided to overstay.

A lasting solution is needed to solve this crisis and for a start, there is a need to have a common federal and state policy on dealing with illegal immigrants. It doesn’t help to have Democrats declaring their cities to be sanctuaries for illegal aliens and refusing to work with the federal authorities. While it is not illegal to seek asylum in the US, the majority of the people who are in the US illegally enter via legal channels. The Democrats may have a lot to say about Trump’s immigration policy, but if you take a closer look at their statements, they have never questioned Trumps call to have a strong border.

On the website Portside, the academic Mark Tseng-Putterman said, “Democratic rhetoric of inclusion, integration, and opportunity has failed to fundamentally question the logic of Republican calls for a strong border and the nation’s right to protect its sovereignty.”

Democrats and Republicans need to reach a consensus to forge a common nationwide policy. American politicians need to stop demonizing one another and put the interests of the country first.

And when Democrats and Republicans demonize one another on the campaign trail, the situation at the border continues. Both sides need to work together to solve this crisis, which is hurting everyone. They rallied together to save the economy during the 2008 financial crash, and I hope politicians can muster the same courage to solve the immigration crisis.

Another part of the solution that is equally essential but lacking is addressing the root cause of the crisis. Many of the reforms implemented by the US government over the past several decades have addressed the symptoms of the crisis, such as when the Reagan administration granted illegal immigrants legal status in the 1980s. Hence there is a recurring crisis which will time and time again demand the attention of policymakers in Washington.

And the majority of migrants now come from the Central American countries known as the Northern Triangle – El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Many of these migrants have escaped poverty and violence in their countries and the responsibility lies at the doorstep of the United States.

Decades of US intervention in Central America, such as backing military coups and economic intervention, have destabilized the region. The very sight of these asylum seekers arriving at the doorstep of the US to seek asylum is a stark reminder to America of its disastrous interventionist policies in Central America. It also doesn’t help that Trump cut off economic aid to the Northern Triangle, which will only worsen the problem.

So America needs a two-pronged strategy. In addition to reforming its immigration system, it needs to change its foreign policy toward the region. What the Northern Triangle needs is stable governance and economic development and the flow of asylum seekers will continue until these two elements are in place.

Stable but not necessarily 100% pro-American governments in the Northern Triangle are in the best interest of America. America needs a fundamental review of how it exercises its power in the region.

Maa Zhi Hong

Maa Zhi Hong is a political analyst in Singapore who has written for Today, Asia Times, the South China Morning Post and Nikkei Asian Review. His official Instagram account is @maazhihongofficial.

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  9. In 15 years as an entrepreneur, I’ve made many mistakes and I’ve seen a lot of entrepreneurs do them too. My answer is two-part since these are equally as important.”
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