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SU National Security Researcher Takes Fact-Based Approach to Charged Immigration Debate

A Syracuse University researcher is trying to take the politics and emotions out of illegal immigration and border security, even with the president's address to the nation Tuesday evening. 

Dr. Corri Zoli is Director of Research at the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism.  She says the political dynamics on both sides are counter-productive to arriving at a more permanent solution for the southern border.

"If Congress had done a better job at clarifying immigration rules, laws, and statutes, which have been in need of reform for the last decade plus, then we wouldn't have this level of resorting to politicizing this issue because it would be clarified in the law."

So, Zoli says what we’re left with is a largely unsecured border that leads to a legal, humanitarian, and resource crisis.  She says Department of Homeland Security data show tens of thousands of people affiliated with drug and human trafficking cartels are penetrating the border every year. 

"We're seeing right now a real spike in unaccompanied minors and children essentially being dragged across the border.  Why are they doing that?  Because the complexities of our law create incentives for traffickers to have a child with them."

Credit Scott Willis / WAER News
We caught up with Prof. Zoli in Dineen Hall on the SU campus.

Zoli says an estimated 10,000 minors last summer alone crossed the border against their will.  She calls the ongoing partial government shutdown a troubling result of the stalemate between the president and Congress, when ordinary Americans can probably see plenty of common ground.  Zoli we’ve fallen into this false dichotomy of pro- or anti-immigration, when it’s more of a continuum.

"You want to have legal, fair, reasonable ways to include new Americans into our society, and you don't, at the same time, want to incentivize these heinous transnational organized groups who are making a profit off of other people's miseries."

Zoli points out that illegal immigration and border security are not unique to the U.S.; it’s an issue many places are struggling with around the world.  She says there are an estimated 70 million refugees and forced immigrants seeking resettlement due to violence, lack of opportunity, and poor governance.  That’s where Zoli says the U.S. can be a leader and get to the root cause of the problem.

"We need to think more about how to help states and governments bring up their government, increase ways and means by which huge percentages of their populations don't want to exit, but actually want to live there and be contributing parts of their societies.  That and human rights issues are almost never talked about in our public discourse on this."

Zoli says addressing internal governance issues in Central and South America, for example, can help address the immigration crisis at our southern border. 

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at