Lessons Learned: Investing in Solutions that Provide Hope for Migrants

By John Sanders

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Trying to make big improvements to complex problems can be challengingespecially in politically charged topics such as border security and immigration. At the same time, these are critical needs for our country to address. therefore recommend following two pieces of seemingly simple advice when crafting solutions to these problems:

  • Think big. Start small. Act now.

  • Recognize that actions, based on the best policy intent, can result in negative unintended consequences. 

Historicallyin an effort to move forward on areas within their control, previous Administrations started their immigration reform with actions to secure the borderMost of those efforts not only didn’t result in the overall change needed, they had a number of negative second order impacts. Those experiences have taught us that any border and asylum solution must include lawful immigration pathways – as well as efforts to address corruption, violence, and lack of opportunity that drive migration.   

Given the need to advance change in the lawful immigration arenathe U.S. executive branch should:

  • Continue to work with Congress to update our laws to provide safe, lawful, and responsive mechanisms to come to the U.S.

  • Reinvigorate support to regional, non-governmental organizations, and country-based solutions to address the root causes of migration. More attention and funds focused on the root causes of migration would go a long way to assuage the resulting border crises the U.S. has faced for years.

  • Collaborate with the UN and partner nations to create safe environments for those fleeing dangerous conditions close to conflict areas.  

  • Provide those seeking U.S. asylum decisions with due process in the U.S., access to legal counsel, and decisions in a reasonable amount of timeall administered by trained, impartial, and independent experts.

  • Implement smart, prioritized immigration enforcement policies focused on criminal aliens, fraud, and non-compliance with lawful removal orders.

  • Resource and reform the immigration court system so cases can be adjudicated in an efficient and effective manner – keeping people in legal limbo for years is unfair to them and their families.

  • Transition to an environment where detention while waiting for hearing before an immigration judge is the exception, not the norm. Studies show which alternatives to detention have been successful and why; the U.S. should invest in them. 

The vast majority of those who take the arduous and extremely dangerous journey to our border are forced to due to violence and poverty.  Programs that fight these realities and empower local communities allow for greater hope, optimism and opportunity, and in turn provide many with the ability to thrive at home. 


John Sanders formerly served as Chief Operating Officer of the CBP.

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