Last time this column opened discussion about the immigrants already here (Congress Has Forgotten How to Say “Yes”, June 13). The other group, those who want to come here, have been in the news a lot in the last few weeks. Let me be clear about some basics because the immigration issue is personal to many. Not I, or any other Democrat that I know, or any Democratic policy, advocates for the open borders of which we are accused of supporting. The people who come to our border and try to cross without permission for nefarious reasons, should be sent away. Criminal crossings cannot be abided. Also, anyone living here who is not law-abiding, cannot stay. Let’s also be clear that this group is small–in the one percent range of people crossing the southern border. Data prove we have historic lows in illegal immigrants over the last dozen years. We are down from a yearly high of 1.6 million in 2000 to about 300,000. The net immigration from Mexico has been negative (fewer coming in–more going out) since 2007.

Yet there are problems. One facet is a group of migrants who are enticed here by U.S. employers for seasonal work that cannot be filled by U.S. workers. Willing workers are hired when they are still in Mexico. It is illegal to do so, but because temporary work visas have become rarer than hens’ teeth, both the farmers and the migrants are willing to take the chance because of the economic boon to both–the fields get picked and the workers earn money. This group has no intention of staying here, they just want the jobs citizens do not. When this works, illegal or not, our economy benefits by billions of dollars. It’s win-win and in the past, border patrols have looked the other way. Yes, some do try to stay illegally because it is easier to stay than to try and come back next summer. Illegal? Yes. But, don’t you think we should do something about that?  Give farmers the visas they need and let them hire from a pool of vetted workers who can be tracked. If the system is abused, the odd migrant, can be arrested, sent back, and blacklisted. We don’t have to be suspicious of a whole group of people simply because they are brown-skinned.

On another front, the clearest sections of our immigration laws are for those fleeing for their safety–refugees seeking asylum. This represents some 80% of the group today jamming the borders, not from Mexico, from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras–all countries currently in great conflict. We have the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) coupled with congressionally sanctioned participation in the United Nations Treaty on the State of Refugees, and the Fourteenth Amendment comes into play with due process regulations.

The large numbers of asylum seekers are making following our procedures problematic, but none-the-less, still required by law. A lot changed on April 6 when Attorney General Jeff Sessions made the announcement that everyone who came to the border would be arrested and treated as if they were a criminal from the onset–abandoning the legal recourse refugees have been granted in the past. The Trump administration is calling these people guilty before a chance to prove their intent and innocence. This is a dramatic change in both U.S. ethos and law. There is administration rhetoric about asylum laws still being followed if seekers enter at ports-of-entry. The problem is that those ports are crowed and officials are turning away seekers, telling them to come back. They do and are turned away again. They have nowhere to go. Walking back to Central America isn’t an option, it’s a death sentence. Waiting on the bridge for weeks or months isn’t an option. So, they cross between ports and peacefully present themselves to border authorities. This is illegal, but a misdemeanor, not action due criminal prosecution or reason for family separation–it calls for a ticket. We should be able to handle the problem without creating national trauma.

What we need to stop doing immediately is treating every walk-up to the border as a criminal. Beyond misrepresenting Democrats as wanting open borders, Republicans have latched on to a talking point that a Democratic sponsored law is what is causing families to be separated­–especially those with children. That simply is not true. Other administrations have detained and even separated families, but never at this rate and never as a mean-spirited deterrent from their right to seek asylum. Only if arrested and treated like the criminals they are not, can families be separated. All this because A.G. Sessions decided on a “zero tolerance” policy he thought would dissuade refugees from trying to gain legal entry into our system–with the added bonus of sucking-up to the ravenous Mr. Trump. Zero tolerance policies have been used as an excuse to abandon rational, thoughtful actions in the past. History books are filled with avoidable disasters caused because every similar issue was treated like every other–no exceptions.

Arrest those who present a real threat; send others back, as a family, who do not qualify; change laws so farmers and other employers can get temporary visas for workers; and do the work necessary to evaluate refugees.

By-the-way, Mr. Trump, you are one hundred percent wrong when you say, “they aren’t sending us their best.” Through their warring, evil treatment El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras are forcing their best, their treasures–mothers and children–to flee for their lives.