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U.S. immigration policy is a mess, causing individual human tragedy, national division and government gridlock. One way to understand this issue is by thinking about it under four headings: Unnecessary suffering; self-inflicted wounds; shooting ourselves in the foot; and short-term solution, long-term problem.

Unnecessary suffering: The administration’s stated policy is to deter immigration by making the process as unpleasant as possible. We are forcing migrants seeking asylum to remain on the Mexican side of the border, usually in primitive conditions. Immigration authorities are understaffed, so bottlenecks develop at even the legal crossing points. Individuals who cross at unauthorized places are detained in overcrowded camps designed for adult single men but now are trying to serve the more complex needs of women and children. Administration officials hope word of all this misery gets back to Central America so people will be discouraged from even trying to come here. It’s a harsh policy, and it is not working. The number of migrants coming north has actually increased.

Self-inflicted wounds: It would be one thing if present policy were working. Sometimes good policy has bad consequences. But what is the value of making vulnerable people suffer when all we are doing is inflicting pain, tarnishing our hard-earned reputation for humane treatment of refugees and endangering our own economy? Detention camps run by private contractors at government expense have become overcrowded breeding grounds of disease. The overcrowding is so severe that immigration authorities are being forced to release large numbers of migrants into the streets of border towns and cities without vetting and with little or no coordination with local officials and charities. This practice is worse than the previous administration’s “capture and release” policy, which released migrants pending a hearing on their asylum claim only after determining they were not likely to be a threat to the safety of others.

Shooting ourselves in the foot: In this era of nearly full employment, entry-level jobs are going unfilled in agriculture, hospitality and elder health care. These are the very positions new immigrants have traditionally filled. Even President Donald Trump’s enterprises have been identified as employing undocumented individuals. It may be hypocritical on his companies’ part, but they have basically no other choice and neither do we as a society. Indiana in particular is aging and many current workers are retiring. Who but migrants will fill these basic jobs? In short, we need hard working immigrants for the comfort and safety of the rest of us.

Short-term solutions, long-term problem: Despite all the heated rhetoric, everyone is in favor of border security and a sensibly managed immigration policy. The devil is, of course, in the details. One major dispute is over building a wall, a seemingly easy (though expensive) solution. The Chinese tried it many centuries ago. But it is not likely that a wall will stop people who have crossed large stretches of desert and forded streams and rivers. If the last barrier is a wall, they will find a way over, under or through it. A more sensible solution would seem to be an advanced electronic warning system on and under the ground and drones and other aircraft above combined with a highly mobile border patrol able to act on short notice. No option will catch everybody, but a 21st century approach seems more sensible than building the American version of the Great Wall of China.

Border security of any type can never be the total answer. We need to go to the source of the problem in Central America where brutal thugs are terrorizing their countrymen. We should be willing to spend even billions there to clean out the criminal elements and subsidize job creation. Such an approach would be more humane, more likely of success and in the long run cheaper than anything else we could do.

I suggest that we all work on bringing an open mind to the immigration issue realizing we are dealing with human beings and remembering that all of us or our ancestors were immigrants, some coming illegally and many others coming when the only requirement was to show up at our borders.

Cal Bellamy is pledge project chairman for the Shared Ethics Advisory Commission. The opinions are the writer's.

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Porter County Government Reporter

Senior reporter Doug Ross, an award-winning writer, has been covering Northwest Indiana for more than 35 years, including more than a quarter of a century at The Times.