When Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. came to my hometown of Yuma, Arizona, in early June, he said it took him about three days to really understand and process what he was seeing. He expected that the vast majority of migrants streaming across the border would be from Central America; instead, he discovered an uncontrolled flow of desperate people from all around the globe—including China, Russia, Ukraine, Iraq, Cancun, Azerbaijan, Bangla Desh, Ukraine, and a variety of African nations.
I told him that the human trafficking operation run by the Mexican drug cartels has become so profitable that there had recently been more than 300 assassinations just 25 miles on the other side of the border in the fight for control of the booming trafficking business. Kennedy said that after coming to Yuma to get a grasp of the chaotic situation at the border, he came “to understand that the open border policy is just a way of funding a multi-billion dollar drug and human trafficking operation for the Mexican drug cartels.”
He also saw the devastating impact of the open border policy on the local community. Hospitals and social services are flooded with migrant-related emergencies that they have no capacity to serve local residents. Parents who no longer feel comfortable allowing their children to play outside because of fear of violence or kidnapping as local law enforcement is focused on the tsunami of indigent migrants. The continuing degradation of civil society with increases in crime, disorder, and homelessness, as well as an influx of the deadly fentanyl and methamphetamine from which the cartels profit, is apparent everywhere.
Whatever the intentions of the Biden administration’s “No More Wall” Executive Order to reverse the immigration policies of the Trump administration, the results have been catastrophic, and not just for border communities like Yuma. They’ve been so catastrophic, in fact, that the president has recently been forced to concede that he has “no choice” but to build 20 miles more of Trump’s border wall, after having pledged not to build another foot during his 2020 campaign. This, after quietly auctioning off 300 million dollars’ worth of unused material for wall construction for peanuts, unused parts left to rust when Trump left office.
The destabilizing effects of these thoughtless policies are roiling cities across the U.S. as they struggle to provide the waves of newly arrived migrants with housing, medical care, and social services. In New York City, Mayor Eric Adams recently warned that the migrant crisis could “destroy” the city if it doesn’t get more help to cope with an influx of migrants. The migrant situation in his city has become so acute (with more than 110,000 arriving since spring 2022) that last week Adams made a desperate trip through three Latin American nations to convince aspiring immigrants not to come. “There is no more room in New York,” stated the mayor. “Our hearts are endless, but our resources are not.” In some sense, every American city has become a border town.
Still, border communities face their own unique crises. The misbegotten Executive Order that President Biden signed immediately after coming into office directly led to the utterly chaotic situation we now find in Yuma and countless other border towns. By depriving our border agents of the necessary means to enforce the law, we have essentially transferred control of our immigration policy to the drug cartels, resulting in a flood of desperate, exploited migrants and a humanitarian disaster of epic proportions.
Of course, the biggest victims of this strategy (or lack of strategy) are the migrants themselves. Human trafficking, mass rape, and unprecedented numbers of separated and unaccompanied children are the legacy of this mindless, reactionary policy. A nation without effective borders with no capacity to monitor who is coming in, is not a nation at all.
It is not “compassionate” to refuse to have an orderly, functioning immigration policy; it is suicidal. The current situation, with an estimated 1.5 to 2.2 million migrants pouring unrestricted over our southern border each and every year, should be of grave concern to every American.
After seeing the situation with his own eyes, Kennedy is advocating a new approach, motivated by compassion, not bigotry, or xenophobia. First, he proposes regaining control over the border with the technology, physical barriers, and trained personnel that were dismantled and defunded by the current administration. Border communities like Yuma understand that this is perfectly doable with adequate funding, and we have done it in the past.
Second, he proposes fixing the dysfunctional asylum system. With millions of backlogged cases, political asylum claimants currently just walk across the border and then are processed and bused into communities all over the U.S. before any hearing to determine the validity of their claim (if a hearing ever takes place). If claimants to political asylum understood that their case would be determined swiftly at the border before being granted entry into the country, most would not undertake the considerable dangers and expense of entrusting themselves to cartels to get them across the border.
Finally, Kennedy proposes working with the Mexican government to stem the flow of transit migration through Mexico. The Mexican government has every incentive to cooperate in restoring order to the situation since the impact of handing over immigration policy to the drug cartels has been devastating to public safety on their side of the border, as well as ours.
Upending the business model of the drug cartels seems like a great strategy for getting the situation under control. And the compassionate, humanitarian approach Kennedy proposes has the potential to win support from both sides of the political divide. It just goes to show what comes of approaching a problem with an open mind and a desire to understand and help people as opposed to the usual partisan, special interest-motivated grandstanding.
I hope other political leaders start to approach policy with RFK, Jr.’s attitude.
Jonathan Lines is Yuma County Supervisor District 2.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.