That there is a humanitarian crisis at our southern border is unquestionable. The "why is there" and "what to do" are issues to debate.
First, the crisis has been growing for some time. Up to about 20 years ago, the body of illegal immigration was composed mostly of males, and most of them young, a situation which actually helped us economically and presented few problems at the border. Most came seeking work so that they could send money home to their families. During that time, I once employed a handful of legal immigrants with temporary visas; they all sent their money home. However, many industries employed (and still employ) illegals who sent (send) money home. Even though the number of illegal immigrants has dropped dramatically (high of 1.6 million in 2000 to barely 300,000 in 2016), the "humanitarian crisis" has been exacerbated in recent years by the increase in the number of families (or children) migrating. There simply are no facilities, no professionals and no laws to handle these families humanely. That is the "humanitarian crisis" Donald Trump wants to solve with a wall.
Let's think about that logic. Most of these people are coming for asylum from the violence in Central America. And a "zero tolerance" policy started by Attorney General Jeff Sessions only makes their situation (and ours) much worse. Combine that with a severely slowed bureaucratic asylum process - caused by Trump's desire to squelch asylum seeking - and, voila, we have a huge humanitarian crisis. That's the "why."
Note the crisis began under previous presidents but has been seriously worsened by the Trump administration. Parents are in danger, their children are in danger, and there are no jobs back home. These people will keep coming whether there is a wall or not - climbing, tunneling under or even knocking a hole in a wall is a better choice than certain death in the squalor of Central America. Thus, a "wall" of any kind will not deter these people. It will only create larger detention camps in both Mexico and the US. That is, building a wall will only make the humanitarian situation worse - no matter what other solutions we employ.
Concerning what to do, the $25 billion - almost all estimates come in close to this figure, not the $5 billion of Trump's fantasy - could be better spent by speeding up the asylum process. For example, if a family or unaccompanied child (proved to be who they say they are) is detained and can present evidence of no former criminality, grant them asylum and send them on to organizations to help them find residence and work or education. This can be coordinated with the many church and social organizations that already try to do this and whatever government agencies necessary. We should provide monetary assistance (from the real $25 billion) to the organizations as needed. Also, determine as quickly as possible the identities of those others detained and whether they have any criminal convictions or gang connections. Put a time limit on the agencies responsible and provide them the personnel and money needed to get the job done. Then direct those not disqualified into the asylum process or temporary visa applications (or whatever the system allows) as necessary. Deport any who ID as felonious criminals.
Also, we should increase border security by hiring more personnel and employing whatever technical solutions prove workable. We should make ICE (or some new agency) something more than just a police force - with the idea of helping people who have legitimate social or legal reasons for immigrating here become productive U.S. citizens, not just human waste - which is how our government (and their home governments) sees them now.
In addition, the worst thing we could do is to cut off assistance to the problematic countries that produce these immigrants - exactly what Trump proposes. We could provide them assistance (money, personnel, equipment - whatever it takes) to improve their situation - with proper checks and oversight to ensure what we provide does what we intend. In all practicality, $25 billion can, and should, accomplish a whole lot more than simply producing a 2,000-mile-long wall, whose only accomplishment would be to memorialize Trump.
There will still be immigration, some of it illegal, but we can reduce the number of illegals by helping them, not by providing impediments to their making a new life for themselves and their families in the "land of the free."
D'Wayne Hodgin is a faculty emeritus of the English Department at the University of Idaho. He and his wife, Susan, have lived in and around Moscow since 1980.