OPINION: Lives at risk: Refugee, immigrant reform can’t be delayed any longer

Many people say the United States can’t possibly handle the hundreds of thousands of Central Americans and others who remain massed along the U.S.-Mexico border and several detention centers awaiting responses to their request for refugee status and U.S. residency. Now we have to deal with new waves of refugees from Afghanistan.

All this, plus the normal immigration that hasn’t diminished while refugees have swarmed to the Land of Freedom, only add to the difficulties our nation faces in trying to apply immigration policies that have been ignored for decades.

Congress members returning from their summer recess need to address this issue immediately. Although the immediate need raises the likelihood that the resulting policy won’t be as well thought out as it should, it can’t be delayed any longer.

The need for action was critical even before the recent waves of refugees; the United States has received an average of 100,000 asylum seekers every year. Nor are large influxes uncommon. Many Americans surely remember the Vietnamese resettlement in the 1970s and the Mariel boatlift that brought about 150,000 Cuban and Haitian refugees here in 1980. Smaller surges have come from the former Yugoslavia, Africa and even the former Soviet Union in the early 1990s.

All of these groups settled successfully into our society, and have become major contributors to our nation’s growth and success.

Public opinion polls show that most Americans are willing to accept those fleeing persecution, even though some continue to resist a greater foreign presence in this country. Some have suggested blocking our borders, and instead paying other countries to accept the refugees. Their argument is that the refugees surely will feel more at home in countries closer to their homes, with more familiar people and cultures. The reality, however, is that most want to resettle here, drawn by our reputation for political, religious and economic freedom.

Many of those who welcome them have backed up their opinions with action and monetary support. Countless people in the Rio Grande Valley and elsewhere have donated time, items and money to aid the efforts of Catholic Charities and other organizations that are helping refugees build new lives here.

That help likely would be even greater with better immigration policies. Many fear doing more because of hostile pronouncements coming from Austin and Washington, such as Gov. Greg Abbott’s order that state troopers pull over any vehicle they suspect might carry migrants — an obvious order for racial profiling — that could make people hesitate to help get immigrants to migrant assistance centers, immigration offices or even healthcare facilities if medical care is needed. Assistance by private individuals and organizations would lessen the burden on government agencies if clear policies let them know what they could and couldn’t do.

Officials’ failure to address our immigration laws adversely affects more and more people every day. In the name of basic humanity, we implore lawmakers to begin working on immigration reform immediately.