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Consistent with stands taken during his 2006 campaign for the U.S. Senate, Jon Tester cast critical votes against mass amnesties for illegal aliens during his first term. Those defeats of amnesty bills in 2007 and 2010 didn’t remedy the huge problem presented by illegal immigration, but they kept it from rapidly worsening.

However, since 2010, Tester’s performance on this subject has ranged from unhelpful to abysmal. For example, in 2015 and 2018, he opposed measures that would have discouraged cities and counties from declaring themselves "sanctuaries" for illegal aliens. And in 2013 he supported the “Gang of Eight” amnesty bill that would also have doubled legal immigration rates. (Fortunately, that Senate-passed monstrosity died in the House.)

So is it significant that Senator Tester has returned to the subject with his April 5 Independent Record column, “What I saw at the southern border." Perhaps, but his emphasis on border fortifications showed that he’s largely missing the point.

In fact, the current crisis is mostly the consequence of our outdated asylum laws -- which are easily gamed by Central America’s poverty legions -- and of the related failure to keep illegal aliens from taking American jobs.

For make no mistake, very few among those crashing our southwest border are legitimate refugees. As departing Homeland Security Secretary Nielsen noted last November, “Historically, less than 10% of those who claim asylum from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador are found eligible by a federal judge. 90% are not eligible. Most of these migrants are seeking jobs or to join family who are already in the U.S. They have all refused multiple opportunities to seek protection in Mexico or with … the UN Refugee Agency. Seeking employment or family reunification are not grounds for asylum under our laws, or any international obligation.”

What about people who claim to be fleeing gang violence, as Senator Tester mentioned? That’s not grounds for asylum either, since the actual concept is “political asylum,” which is defined in the 1980 Refugee Act to apply to people who are persecuted by their own government due to their race, religion, nationality, political opinions, or membership in a particular social group. There’s nothing in the definition about criminal gangs or domestic violence — nor, for that matter: mudslides, earthquakes, tsunamis or volcanoes.

The current chaos at the border mostly involves adults who show up with minors in tow, knowing that the current federal rules arising from the “Flores” settlement forbid detaining children more than 20 days. They tell their typically fraudulent stories to the Border Patrol and, within days, are released into the U.S. interior, carrying paperwork to start the asylum-application process. But since they have minimal chance of being granted asylum, most don’t submit applications. Instead, they simply vanish into our country’s woodwork, intent on benefiting from our welfare programs and modern infrastructure, great improvements over their Third World homes.

Such people are merely the latest surge of illegal aliens. They’ll keep coming — and stressing our schools, hospitals, housing, and welfare programs — until we change the incentives that encourage their influx.

So the real crisis is Congress’s refusal to legislate for the broad national interest. What’s needed is a change in the refugee law to allow prompt deportation of people —including people with accompanying children — who are obvious non-candidates for asylum. Further, we need to ensure that illegal aliens can’t get jobs, so it’s time — in fact, far past time — to make electronic verification of eligibility for employment (E-Verify) universally mandatory in hiring.

Thus if he’s once again serious about this subject, there’s plenty for Senator Tester to do.

Paul Nachman, a retired physicist, volunteers in a research group at Montana State University-Bozeman and is a founding member of Montanans for Immigration Law Enforcement.

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