El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar on Wednesday told lawmakers in Washington, D.C., that immigration reform should come before enforcement.
Escobar testified before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security, which is looking at how to create a system to assess a secure border.
"We need to have a comprehensive strategy to secure the border, and part of that strategy has to be a measurement system that makes sense," said U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Mich., the chairwoman of the subcommittee.
Miller said a security measurement should be based on outcomes and not on the number of agents, technology and infrastructure on the border.
Escobar was one of four witnesses.
with this question of how to measure security because border security was mandated to be achieved before immigration reform would be enacted," Escobar said.
She said the government has spent "enormous resources" to protect the border from undocumented immigrants instead of dealing with them at the policy level by creating legal guest-worker programs.
Approaching the problem through enforcement first is a backward way of dealing with the flow of people and goods across the border, Escobar said. Comprehensive immigration reform should come first and then dealing with those who are truly a threat to the national security should be second, she said.
"If we are to look at what security is, we should also identify what we
know it should not be: It should not be long idling wait times at our ports of entry, and it should not be unnecessary, expensive, ugly fencing that can be easily defeated with tunnels and ladders," she said.
The construction of the fence along the border has not stopped the flow of people trying to find work in the U.S., she said.
Escobar's testimony was criticized by U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, a member of the subcommittee. He said the U.S. has granted undocumented immigrants amnesty in the past and it did not resolve the problem of undocumented immigration.
Stewart said many of the 11 million undocumented immigrants who are now in the country came into the U.S. through the international ports of entry.
Forty percent of the people who are in the U.S. illegally entered legally by using a border-crossing visa, and they overstayed, he said.
He said a missing piece of the border security puzzle has been the lack of tracking visa overstays.
In addition, Stewart said, undocumented immigrants present a threat to the millions of Americans who are out of work. He said immigration laws are meant to protect the American worker and national security.
Escobar said immigration reform should not be "a one-time fix." Policy and reform should be continuous, she said.
"You can't just do it every 20 years," Escobar said. "I think the challenge for Congress is when it puts decisions off over the years and then you're not dealing with them on an annual basis, then you're going to ended up in situations like what we are on today in this nation when we're having to deal with 11 million people who are living in the shadows."
The flow of people and the reasons immigrants come to the U.S. would change year after year, she said.
Escobar encouraged Congress to think about an immigration reform as an ongoing, long-term challenge that needs to be considered every year through budgets and policy reform.
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