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It's Groundhog Day at the Southern Border. Time to Change the Channel

Originally published in Newsweek

By Chrissy Houlahan

If you’re a Pennsylvanian like me, you know we just observed Groundhog Day. Punxsutawney Phil didn’t see his shadow we can all expect an early spring. 


At our country’s southwestern border, it feels like every day is Groundhog Day. Like so many Americans, I’m a combination of angry, frustrated, and heartbroken by what continues to happen there—day after day and year after year and decade after decade.


We know our immigration policies must align with the shared values of our country; a country primarily built by immigrants. We must welcome new arrivals compassionately while protecting and securing our safety and economy. 


My community is thousands of miles away from the southern border, in the suburbs of Philadelphia. We face unique challenges regarding immigration, but what’s not unique is that EVERY community has felt the impact in some way of our fractured and broken immigration system.

I’ve had the opportunity twice to visit our southern border - first in Brownsville, Texas, in 2019 and just recently in El Paso, Texas.


Our system is broken but can be repaired. I have seen the effects of important changes Congress has implemented since my first visit. Gone are the dehumanizing cages and the literal smell of humanity. In their place is a clean and dignified environment centered on the health and well-being of the migrants and the incredibly dedicated Americans working on behalf of our country. There is still an enormous amount of work to be done to secure the border with enhanced processes, more staffing, and better systems, but the difference is palpable. 


Most significantly, though, what has not improved is the volume of migrants and the fact that there is no other path than this desperate one for people seeking a better life in our vibrant and healthy economy. We don’t need more of the same expensive band aids but rather real reform with more legal pathways to come here and participate in our nation’s next 250 years.


I am committed to bipartisanship and securing our border, and I am asking the same from Congress. The message I want to share today is this: Our Republican leadership in Congress needs to commit to bringing bipartisan immigration reform bills, like Rep. Veronica Escobar’s (D-TX) bipartisan DIGNITY Act, to the floor for a vote now. Efforts like the Senate’s bipartisan bill introduced this past weekend must also be considered and voted on. We must reach a compromise with real solutions to this complex issue NOW.


I’m calling on Speaker Johnson to change his deeply cynical position that “now is not the time” for immigration reform—I couldn’t disagree more. Most people in communities across America couldn’t disagree more.  


No solution will be perfect, but we cannot let that keep us from making progress for both the American people and those who seek refuge here.


Not too long ago, it was my own family seeking shelter—my father and grandmother survived the Holocaust. They left war-torn Poland after World War II and sought a better way of life in the United States. I saw my young dad and grandmother in the eyes of frightened, desperate, and hopeful migrants I met this weekend. One small family unit in particular stuck with me: A young man of probably no more than 20 years old with his beautiful curly-headed toddler. He told me about traffickers taking pictures of his son to intimidate and extort the father into conformance with their threats and demands. We can do better. 


A lot has changed since my father and grandmother took a ship across the Atlantic Ocean to New York City, and our immigration laws must change, too.


I honor the souls—both migrant and American—whose lives collide each day at our borders, and I again urge Republican leadership to bring a bipartisan border bill to the House floor. We must seek the hope of fresh opportunities. The shadows that burden us all must be lifted. That is possible, but only if we here in Congress understand that this nation depends on us to act NOW.