Merilee Dannemann, columnist

The situation at the U.S.- Mexico border is a tragedy for the migrants who, out of desperation, started a journey in hope and ended up in despair or frustration. 

It’s a hardship for communities forced to deal with the unplanned overload of homeless and hungry migrants.

It’s a waste of resources for employers, including New Mexico farmers, who need more workers and can’t legally hire them.

It’s a national embarrassment and a stain on the United States’ reputation in the world.

The governance of immigration – who is allowed in, who is not – is dictated by laws.  It’s been clear for years that the law is severely out of step with reality. It’s out of date. The job of fixing outdated laws belongs to Congress, which has been sidestepping that responsibility for all those years. 

Gabe Vasquez, Democratic congressman from New Mexico’s Second District, is proposing bills updating laws related to immigration:  

  • The Strengthening Our Workforce Act proposes to allow immigrants in critical jobs such as health care and education to apply for two-year temporary provisional status so that they could work legally in the United States.
  • The Humane Accountability Act proposes to address abuses that have occurred within federally sanctioned detention centers, which would undoubtedly include the much-criticized facility in Torrance County.
  • The Stop Coyotes Act would impose higher penalties for human traffickers.
  • The Smart Border Protection Act proposes new inspection technology to detect illegal drugs such as fentanyl at the border. 
  • The Farm Workforce Support Act proposes to reform the agricultural workforce program and address the shortage of farm workers. This one is cosponsored by Rep. Juan Ciscomani, R-Arizona.

Vasquez and Ciscomani recently founded the Bipartisan Southwest Caucus and have cosponsored several other bills, including the Joint Task Force to Combat Opioid Trafficking Act and the Wolf and Livestock Fairness Act. A bipartisan caucus of border-area Congress members could be a helpful development to start updating the laws affecting the border.

Here’s the problem: Vasquez is introducing these laws at a time that might be the most dysfunctional moment in the history of Congress.

The House has just elected a new speaker on a strictly partisan vote. Speaker Mike Johnson, with a deeply conservative record but minimal experience at leadership, is perhaps best known for defending former President Donald Trump’s attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 election. 

The Speaker has the power to move legislation forward or prevent bills from ever coming to a vote.

And Vasquez is running for reelection in one of the most hotly contested districts in the nation. He won the Second Congressional District by a slim margin of about 1,200 votes over former Rep. Yvette Herrell, a Republican who is a candidate for the seat again.

So why would this speaker allow this Democrat to have a victory by passing legislation to help solve a major national problem?

While Congress has been failing to act, the problem has been festering while migrants continue to suffer and border communities continue to be overwhelmed. Republicans have been blaming President Biden for the state of our immigration system rather than fixing it. 

President Biden proposed a comprehensive immigration bill in January 2021, shortly after he became President. That bill attempted to address all aspects of the issue, including the root causes of migration, conditions in several Central American countries that force residents to leave home.  No surprise – the legislation bogged down in Congress.

Aren’t we all tired of this?

Rep. Vasquez’s bills deserve a chance to be moved expeditiously through committees and get a vote on the House floor. That’s entirely in the hands of the new speaker.

We’re waiting. 

Contact Merilee Dannemann through www.triplespacedagain.com. 

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