Monday, September 01, 2014

US response to fleeing children will define nation

7/9/2014

Most Americans can agree: U.S. immigration policy borders on the absurd.

The nation’s porous southern border tends to be nothing more than a perennial campaign topic for most politicians. Meanwhile, enforcement of existing laws is inconsistent. Deportations are a joke with families split up, but violent criminals are often able to evade true expulsion from the country and quickly return. Becoming a U.S. citizen the legal way is a long, challenging and costly process that many don’t see as worthwhile.

Most Americans can agree: U.S. immigration policy borders on the absurd.

The nation’s porous southern border tends to be nothing more than a perennial campaign topic for most politicians. Meanwhile, enforcement of existing laws is inconsistent. Deportations are a joke with families split up, but violent criminals are often able to evade true expulsion from the country and quickly return. Becoming a U.S. citizen the legal way is a long, challenging and costly process that many don’t see as worthwhile.

But what can we do? What should we do?

Congress and the president have talked tough on enacting immigration reform, yet always seem to find another excuse to say, “It’s an important issue — maybe even the most important — but it’s complicated ... and we’re not going to touch it this year.”

Fast forward to July 2014.

In recent weeks, we’ve learned more than 52,000 unaccompanied children from Central America have been caught at the U.S.-Mexico border this year. The children largely have been fleeing increased drug and gang violence in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. And they’re not alone. About 40,000 adults also have been apprehended at the border during about the same time period.

The captured Central Americans currently are being kept in detention camps (of questionable quality) while U.S. politicians scratch their heads trying to decide how to handle the situation. Of course, the key reason for delayed action: Our self-involved leaders won’t act until they find the most politically advantageous way to resolve the crisis. (There’s a reason no one will touch immigration reform ... No matter what happens, some voting bloc will be angered.)

President Obama this week called on Congress to approve $3.7 billion in emergency funds — about double what was expected — to tackle the ongoing debacle at the border. The money would go to a laundry list of U.S. agencies to help enhance border security, improve care facilities for the children, and add more deportation judges and border patrol agents. All these short-term efforts, the White House says, would help speed the processing of the migrants, as well as getting them back to their countries of origin more quickly.

More controversially, some of the money would go to the Central American nations themselves to help them stop children from migrating north to the U.S. border. The prospect of paying corrupt leaders and drug lords to trap children in their home countries, however, doesn’t sit quite as well with those viewing the situation as a developing humanitarian crisis.

The United Nations is pushing the U.S. and Mexico to recognize the child migrants — and even some of the adults — as a protected class of “refugees” seeking asylum from violence at home. While such a designation would not carry any absolute legal weight, it would obligate the United States to help the fleeing people, rather than to simply turn them back.

Labeling the children now detained at the border as refugees would be dicey. Such a move undoubtedly would open the door to others trying to use the same tactic to gain easy access to legal status. What makes a Guatemalan child running from violence more worthy than a Mexican woman trying to escape poverty? Both could eventually lead to the fleeing person’s death.

Another consideration: Conservatives are right when they say an open border welcomes violent criminals and even terrorists hoping to sneak into the country. But is that risk enough to doom tens of thousands of children who are asking for our help?

We can’t afford to be the world’s policeman, nor its wet nurse. We can’t afford to welcome tens of thousands of refugees into our country.

But we also can’t afford to look away.

Much of the drug and gang violence in Central America is fueled by our country’s appetite for the elicit substances produced there. Though we can’t bear sole responsibility, that fact should be taken into account as we mull options. Our actions have consequences, and the failure of the U.S. “war on drugs” helped drive these throngs of children to our border. So is this our fault?

Perhaps we’re asking all the wrong questions.

Instead ... Why did the children come to us for help? And what kind of country are we?

“[A patriot] will therefore seek to establish for his country in the eyes of the world, such a character as shall make her not unworthy of the name of a Christian nation,” Francis Scott Key, writer of the “Star-Spangled Banner,” our National Anthem, said.

What would a patriot do with these children?

What would a Christian nation do?

Tommy Felts,

managing editor

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