President Joe Biden talks with U.S. Border Patrol agents as...

President Joe Biden talks with U.S. Border Patrol agents as they stand along a stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso, Texas, Sunday. Credit: AP/Andrew Harnik

Joe Biden waited nearly two years into his presidency before making it down to our nation’s southern border Sunday, but the crisis his visit highlighted has been central during his time in office, as it was for Donald Trump, Barack Obama and George W. Bush.

For the past two decades, the conflict over how to treat those fighting to come here has been the nation's most insoluble political problem. Biden’s trip didn’t unearth any magical solutions in a region buffeted by wave after wave of hungry, tired, yet hopeful humanity looking for a fresh start.

When Biden arrived in El Paso, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas confronted him with a letter that read, in part, “This chaos is the direct result of your failure to enforce the immigration laws that Congress enacted.”

That the situation is chaotic cannot be disputed: Nearly 2 million migrants from around the world tried to enter the United States illegally from October 2021 through September 2022, the most since record-keeping began in 1960. The images from the border, of masses of exhausted men and women and children struggling to enter, are disturbing.

This nation has been propelled throughout its history by the energy of newcomers from all corners of Earth. It is the crux of our greatness, the key to our success. But the current situation is a crisis and one that cannot simply be blamed on Biden. The southern border has bedeviled Democratic and Republican presidents alike, and a worldwide pandemic has pushed the pace of immigration attempts to a frenzy.

In terms of policy, though, the actual conflict seems starker among the politicians than the people. Recent polls show the majority of Americans strongly support the immigration priorities of both Democrats and Republicans. Voters want secure borders, a controlled but sizable stream of immigrants coming here legally, and paths to legal residency and citizenship for those already here illegally — if they abide by our laws, pay taxes, and meet other reasonable requirements.

Republicans are correct that a thoroughly porous border will be exploited by drug cartels, human smugglers, and hardened criminals who want to enter. Democrats are correct that people who have come here without documentation and managed to build lives, worked hard, and stayed out of trouble with police really are a crucial part of our national fabric and workforce.

With both parties wanting to show the nation they can get things done, maybe, just maybe, the time is right for the politicians to stop the sniping and pass comprehensive immigration reform, fund the fixes needed at the border, and pave the path to a fully legal life here.

MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.