By Jack Fink

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – The former Director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Sarah Saldana, is calling on members of Congress to pass immigration reform.

“We should be demanding attention to this issue. To me, legislation is the best fix, not a temporary Band Aid here and there,” Saldana said.

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Saldana became the agency’s director during President Obama’s second term after serving as the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas during his first term.

“It’s a tragic and difficult situation. I can see how the system is overwhelmed,” she said.

Saldana said those on opposite ends of the immigration debate, from those who believe in open borders to hardliners who served in the Trump administration, need to face reality. “I think the wish was to keep us a nation onto our own, an island onto our own. As I say, that is just not realistic. On the other side, we have individuals advocate for the immigrant population who say, just let everybody in, that is not going to happen. It would be illegal to allow that happen.”

She said the U.S. must work with not only the leaders of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, but their federal and local police as well. “I visited all three countries, I met with the head of immigration, I met with the President of two of those countries. It is important to reach out and try to come up with solutions together not to just impose those solutions.”

Even so, she said the U.S. must be careful to avoid corruption in those countries.

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Saldana also acknowledged that one of the main problems is that many of the migrants don’t show up to their final immigration court hearings to find out whether they’re able to remain in the country or have to leave.

When she headed ICE, there was a program in which the agency had community organizations work very closely with migrants before they had their final immigration hearings.

“Anecdotally, it worked pretty well. I didn’t see the final numbers, but it makes sense. We had people showing up because they had a person they trusted. Catholic Charities is one that I have to mention, because they’re extraordinary in this area.”

She said the agency had a limited budget for the program.

“What we would pass on to the church, or the community-based organization, is a certain amount of money to assist them in making that connection: Staying in touch with them, bringing them into their facility, and encouraging them to do the right thing and to stay employed and whatever it is that they needed to be doing, even accompanying them to come to their hearings. It’s the kind of the local connection, that seems to have a good effect on the immigrant as opposed to they’re being out there with no connection to anyone other than law enforcement. That doesn’t always turn out so well.”

Saldana said she’d like to see that program executed on a larger scale because she believes if those coming here establish a connection with local volunteers who care, they’re more likely to show up in court when expected.

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