President Trump has taken dramatic action in recent days to respond to the growing number of migrants trying to reach the U.S. Unfortunately, many of the president’s moves – coupled with his fiery rhetoric warning of rapists, murderers and drug dealers coming to America to do us harm – will only make matters worse.

On top of that, some things the president wants to do are illegal. They will certainly be challenged with lawsuits that could ultimately go to the Supreme Court.

There is a better way forward on immigration policy. What’s needed is a path that positions the president as the leader who brings the parties together and ensures the United States remains a nation of laws and a nation of grace.


Facing a humanitarian and security challenge at our southern border with Mexico – as a growing number of Central American families arrive – President Trump has taken the advice of destructive aides. He has obtained the forced resignation of Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen and other top officials in the department, while responding by playing to our worst fears and prejudices.

President Trump has threatened to close our southern border completely, despite the enormous harm this would cause to the American people and to the economy locally, nationally and globally.

And the president has threatened to cut off aid to the Central American countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras for failing to stop their citizens from migrating to America. In reality, these actions would lead to increased migration to the U.S. Worsening conditions in those nations will prompt more of their citizens to come to our country.

In addition, the president has repeatedly spread false claims about immigration.

“Our Country is FULL!” Trump tweeted Sunday. But that’s not true. In fact, 145 nations are more densely populated. The U.S. is growing at the slowest rate since the 1930s. And more than 50 million Americans live in counties that have fewer people today than they did a decade ago. 

“Our Country is FULL!” Trump tweeted Sunday. But that’s not true. In fact, 145 nations are more densely populated. The U.S. is growing at the slowest rate since the 1930s. And more than 50 million Americans live in counties that have fewer people today than they did a decade ago.

It’s true that some cities are bursting with people. The New York City borough of Manhattan, where Trump lived before becoming president, has a population of nearly 1.7 million people. But the city of Manhattan in Kansas has only about 55,000.

When I travel across our nation, I see a lot more places like Manhattan, Kansas, than Manhattan in New York City. Many cities and towns want more people to bolster their tax base, create new jobs and start new families.

Yet President Trump likes to call for dramatic action that fires up his political base. Even when the action is misguided on policy, politics and morality – and is based on fiction rather than fact.

Dealing with immigration isn’t easy. It requires a complicated approach that can’t always be described in a tweet.

For example, over 76,000 unauthorized migrants reached the U.S.-Mexico border this past February – more than two times the number that reached the border in February 2018. It’s not just young men coming here to look for work – it’s entire families fleeing violence and poverty who are taking the long, dangerous journey from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

To lower that number, President Trump does not need to decide between showing toughness or heart. Instead, he can take effective action that keeps us safe and shows the world our greatness is based on a deep sense of compassion.

Some actions the president should take are short-term steps, while others require long-term investment. None will earn the president controversial headlines or chants at a rally. But these are steps that would amount to the leadership the country desperately needs.

The National Immigration Forum – the nonprofit organization I head – has put together a working paper explaining what can be done.

Here’s the short version of our plan.

Right off the bat, President Trump should increase resources to better manage the overall flow of migrants. This would require additional personnel and capacity at ports of entry and within the Health and Human Services Department Office of Refugee Resettlement. This would allow the U.S. to handle asylum claims faster and more thoroughly.

Not everyone who reaches the border should receive asylum. But our laws require we give migrants a fair hearing. There are ways to do that.

To save taxpayers money and treat families with the dignity they deserve, the administration should maximize the use of alternatives to detention. From case management to electronic management, we can monitor newcomers without detaining large numbers of families – and without negatively impacting children – when they pose no threats to our communities.

But that’s just the start.

We have the most powerful government on the planet – one that can easily conduct a public information campaign in Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala to help migrants understand if they are eligible for asylum.

These days, smugglers are profiting from the president’s chaotic message by telling would-be migrants they are eligible for asylum if they turn themselves in before President Trump changes his mind.

If our government were to communicate who can and can’t receive asylum and establish in-country processing to allow those in danger the option of applying for asylum in their own countries, we would run a more effective process and stop many people from heading to the U.S. before they start.

And while we are at it, the Trump administration should partner with Mexico and Northern Triangle countries in Central America to counter human smuggling operations and increase intelligence cooperation. These steps could put the smugglers out of business, protect our border and help families understand if they are eligible for protection.

Those are all important short-term actions that can be put in motion with, well, a tweet.

Long-term, Congress should pass and the president should sign immigration reform legislation that: increases border security; creates the legal immigration pathways that serve the full spectrum of our economy and reunite families; and makes taxpayers out of undocumented immigrants working at golf courses, factories and farms.

Walls make for great headlines. But they are a policy solution best suited for centuries past. If we want to control immigration and keep drugs and guns out of our country, we need more security at ports of entry and enhanced technology.

Meanwhile, a functioning legal immigration system would keep innovators and entrepreneurs from creating jobs in Canada, South Korea or Australia. We should be getting those jobs in the U.S.

We also need to go after the causes that lead people to want to leave behind their homes, their relatives, their way of life and their language to trek to an English-speaking foreign country.

By investing more in foreign aid to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras (rather than doing the opposite, as Trump wants) and funding educational and agricultural programs in those countries, we’d be making a prudent investment. This would create opportunities for people to find work and focus on continuing to improve their own communities.


There is a deal to be had. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., wants Democrats and Republicans to “sit down together and see what we can agree to, to improve the situation.” And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., says she is “not giving up on the president” on immigration.

Partisan politics have taken our immigration system to the brink; it’s time for another way. Does the president want to lead America to a real solution?