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Roundtable links border security to inflation

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(The Center Square) – While security at the southern border may be thousands of miles away physically and mentally for many living in Pennsylvania, local leaders argue the impacts on daily life are anything but.

“It starts to open your eyes when you get down to, let’s just call it, the street level,” said Mark Dennebaum Jr., a filmmaker and the owner of TwentyFiveEight Studios in Scranton. “I don’t think a lot of people understand what happens because they are too mired in their day-to-day activities. That’s not a fault of theirs, it just is what it is.”

While filming a documentary on Scranton’s homeless population, Dennebaum said those living on the street told him most help offered to them through food pantries and shelters is hard to find.

“The interesting thing is that 90% of them are not from Scranton, and then they are saying 90% of our resources are getting taken by people who aren’t Americans,” he said. “So, they’re upset about the border crisis, too.”

Dennebaum joined a panel of business owners and federal and state Republican candidates – including Dave McCormick, who is running for U.S. Senate – to discuss the gap between Washington D.C. politics and the issues voters worry about most.

From inflation to energy prices to strained schools to the opioid epidemic, panelists argue that shoring up the U.S. southern border is step number one toward closing that gap.

“This false choice that somehow you can’t be very opposed to illegal immigration and also very pro-immigrant is nonsense,” McCormick said.

The congressional hopeful, who is challenging longtime Democratic Sen. Bob Casey in November, said relaxed federal immigration policies contradict the notion that the Biden administration is “being compassionate.”

In May 2023, the administration lifted a pandemic-era restriction on migrants seeking asylum in the United States. Former President Donald Trump leaned on Title 42, a provision found in a 1944 public health law, to curtail the flow of migrants to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Roughly 2.8 million migrants were turned back between 2020 and 2023 while they awaited approval, except for families and unaccompanied children. Lifting the emergency health order reverted to a decades-old law that gives asylum-seekers shelter while they navigate the court system.

The rollback also included new stipulations meant to slow the surge of anticipated illegal crossings, which rebounded to 2.5 million in 2023 alone.

The monthly quota for migrants from Venezuela, Haiti, Nicaragua and Cuba was set to 30,000. The figure rises to 100,000 for those coming from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

McCormick said, however, the influx of illegal crossings has triggered a “huge exploitation” of undocumented migrants that causes more human suffering.

“The only way to fix that problem is to secure the border,” he said.

Critics argue that the new restrictions don’t really help, either. After applying online, migrants must come via airplane and have U.S. sponsors lest they face deportation. Those who can’t meet those requirements can vie for one of the 1,000 slots allocated daily via an app run by Central Border Patrol.

The National Immigration Forum said that other policies speed up deportation and threaten criminal prosecution for illegal re-entry, as well as expedited interviews that occur without attorneys present, will make it harder for legitimate asylum seekers to enter the country.

Retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. John Baum said he doesn’t deny the humanitarian crisis at the southern border, but argued that further loosening restrictions does nothing to solve it. Rather, he said, cartels and terrorists will continue flooding the country with drugs and weapons that harm communities.

“We have to ensure that we don’t have a next 9/11 happen on the back of an unsecured border and that’s not being any type of phobe that you want to throw out there,” Baum said. “It’s not being anti-anything. It’s just being American and making sure that we can have our citizens thrive within our country.”

According to the Migration Policy Institute, 160,000 undocumented immigrants live in Pennsylvania as of 2018. Roughly 94,000 are employed and paid $135 million in state and local taxes in 2017, according to the Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy.

Critics say these contributions don’t offset the social safety net costs.

The Center for Immigration Studies said during a January congressional hearing that although most undocumented households nationwide have at least one worker, nearly 60% use public assistance programs. Their use of welfare, medical services, and the public education system outstrips economic gains by $68,000 per person, according to the center.

Rob Bresnahan, the Republican candidate for Pennsylvania’s 8th congressional district, added that the state lacks the infrastructure – from roads to housing to broadband internet access – for its own residents, let alone undocumented migrants relocating into the commonwealth.

“People can’t afford to live and nobody received a 20% raise to offset the cost of natural gas,” he said. “Nobody got a 20% raise to offset the cost of groceries. People cannot adjust to an 18% increase on utility bills.

“The hierarchy of needs of just being able to provide food, shelter and water is being compromised right now.”

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