The current approach just isn't working.
Regardless of where you stand politically on the issue of immigration, there should be no question that we need fresh ideas on how to deal with border security, providing adequate services to migrants, and a path to citizenship.
As part of an in-class discussion in my graduate-level Disaster and Emergency Management class, one of my students suggested using the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the four-phase approach to natural disasters (response, recovery, mitigation, and preparation) as a way of dealing with the “border crisis”. The basis of the student’s recommendation was the 1980 Mariel Boatlift https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mariel_boatlift. There are certainly some similarities between what was happening in 1980 with Cuban refugees and the current flow of migrants across our southern border. There are also some differences like the size, scope, and political context. That student’s input resulted in a robust classroom exchange among all of the students. There was agreement from the group that what is currently happening related to immigration is a crisis, but they wondered if it met the federal definition of a disaster.
To provide you with some context President Carter signed Executive Order 12127 on April 1, 1979, creating FEMA. There are two categories of presidential disaster declarations provided for in the Stafford Act. Emergency declarations and major disaster declarations. The following link will provide you with a detailed description and scope of authority of each https://tinyurl.com/FEMA-Disasters. But it is fair to say that congress did not consider immigration as a disaster when they crafted the Stafford Act or other disaster and emergency management-related legislation passed before or after. Then again, they would not have considered cyber-attacks or terrorism at the time and they would now be defined as eligible disasters.
That classroom exchange did get me thinking that we need to have a fresh perspective on how to deal with the highly complex issues surrounding immigration and that college students may be able to provide that perspective. The Department of Homeland Security was way ahead of me (of course) with the idea when they created the Hacking for Homeland Security Program (H4HS) in 2020. “We’re excited to provide this unique opportunity for students who’ll bring fresh ideas to real-world government problems,” said Dr. Dimitri Kusnezov, DHS Under Secretary for Science and Technology. “H4HS is expanding its innovation network to reach diverse talent by broadening its scope of universities. As the program grows, we look forward to seeing its impact on the DHS mission.” https://tinyurl.com/2by65r5h.
Since the program began H4HS participants from major universities have already worked on projects Transportation Security Administration (TSA), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
If there is a downside to H4HS it is that the program only allows for a limited number of schools to participate and students in a small number of areas of study (engineering, business, policy) have been accepted.
I would recommend that we combine the passion that college students have for service and social justice-related causes with the resources of the relevant federal government agencies, and have students develop both short-term and long-term solutions to immigration in a parallel program to H4HS. Participants could come from a broader range of colleges and universities. Since this program would include developing solutions to the immigration policy, the border, educational and health services, etc., students in all areas of study could participate.
A famous Nelson Mandela quote may be relevant here, “The youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow.” I believe that the college students of today can lead us to better solutions to address the future of immigration.