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Saturday, October 22, 2016

The politics surrounding the surge of migrant children at our Southern border are predictable: Republicans blast President Obama; Obama asks Congress for more money to deal with the problem; immigration advocates insist on fewer deportations.

But in the middle of that clichéd drama are gut-wrenching stories about children — including some who are quite young — undertaking a dangerous, lonely journey either alone or in the company of unreliable strangers. It’s hard to fathom.

How awful must conditions be at home for impoverished parents to pay $6,000 for criminal smugglers to take a seven- or eight-year-old child hundreds of miles away? How desperate must a young child be to get on the road alone to try to find Mom and Dad in another country?

News accounts tell those pitiful stories. Ten-year-old Angel and his 7-year-old sister, Dulce, longed to join their parents in the Los Angeles area. They traveled by bus with relatives from Chimaltenango, Guatemala, to the Rio Grande, but their adult kin left them to cross the river with other youngsters.

A 14-year-old boy from Honduras said that his parents were dead and he was hoping to find an aunt in New Orleans. Then there was 11-year-old Nodwin, who said he left Honduras by himself — nearly drowning in the Rio Grande — to get away from criminal gangs, which enforce their rule through torture and rape.

The United States, which thinks of itself as exceptional and indispensable, has an obligation to do what it can to help these children, whose plight has rightly been termed a humanitarian crisis. We can do better than immediate deportations.

In fact, a law intended to curb human trafficking that was passed during the administration of George W. Bush mandates that those children be given deportation hearings to consider their requests for refugee status. Meanwhile, they must be given food, shelter and reasonable accommodations. (Under the same law, unaccompanied minors from contiguous countries, Canada and Mexico, are immediately turned back if they are caught.)

The law may well have contributed to the stunning surge of children — some of them as young as kindergarteners — trying to enter the country illegally. More than 50,000 children have tried to enter the U.S. in the last eight months, officials say. In Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, the three countries that account for most of the refugees, the law has apparently been misinterpreted by parents and children as a policy of broad leniency toward undocumented minors.

In addition to that misunderstanding, kids are propelled by poverty and violence. Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world; Guatemala, the fifth highest. Who could blame them for trying to escape that?

But the crush of refugees has created a political embarrassment for President Obama. In a futile effort to garner GOP support for comprehensive immigration reform, the president has pursued a tough deportation policy toward adults, ensnaring not just felons, but also some undocumented workers who committed minor traffic offenses. The policy hasn’t won over GOP critics, but it has alienated some of Obama’s Latino supporters.

With midterm elections approaching, Republicans are using the refugee crisis as a sledgehammer, insisting the president has broken the law. Sarah Palin has gone so far as to call for Obama’s impeachment. None of the president’s critics acknowledge that he is following a law that several of them supported just a few years ago.

Under the searing pressure, Obama has called for billions to pay for more guards, drones and detention facilities; he has also suggested that he would support a change in the law that would quicken the deportation of unaccompanied minors.

That’s a mistake. The United States cannot solve Central America’s problems of poverty and violence, nor can it take tens of thousands of undocumented children. But it can take those who would qualify for legitimate refugee status.

The children deserve their deportation hearings, and the president should stand steadfast to make sure they get them.

Photo: Michael Robinson Chavez/Los Angeles Times/MCT

  • John Pigg

    Don’t envy the Obama administration on this one. No win situation if there ever was one….

    • charleo1

      No, John. I don’t agree this is a necessarily no win situation. I am beginning to think however, it’s a situation in which the Country has currently lost it’s capacity to do the right thing in response to. And thereby, is a situation we are not going to bring to a positive end. As Dom correctly points out, the law passed not very long ago, has become a reflection of not only the Country we were, but of how much as a Country we have changed in just the last few years. And, not for the better. And, I don’t know why exactly. I don’t believe the change can be easily explained away as financial insecurity, the results of a deep recession. Or the election of a Black President, bringing out some of the worst elements of racism, or nativism, that have been smoldering beneath the surface all along. Although that’s evident, and brings added energy to our response to these refugees. The thing about these children that make them such a litmus test of our morality as a Nation, is their innocence in all of this. They did not cause the conditions they are fleeing. They do not fit the definition, or circumstances of so much, economic immigrants. As, they are people fleeing failed governments, ruthless gangs, and oppression. And for many, almost certain death, or requirement into these gangs upon their return. Yet the reaction has been to conflate their life, and death flights as simply another reason we need immigration reform, which is not forthcoming. So, the emphasis by the Obama Administration is to change the one current law, so as to turn them around more quickly, and return them in all haste, to the same hellholes they’ve just risked life, and limb, to escape. And, that is most likely what is going to happen. After the Republicans have been paid their pound of flesh, made as much political hay as possible, and raised as much political money as possible. The law will be changed, and the deportations will begin in mass. And that will then render the worst possible of no win situations for the U.S.A. Also of the refugee, and the Countries of Central America themselves from which they have fled, for years to come. And we will indeed deserve that harvest. No better than whatever the worst of that turns out to be. When all is considered in hindsight, of what we are contemplating to do today, how could we not?

      • Dominick Vila

        As much as I disagree with Reagan’s and W’s policies and records, the contrast between their social issues, and respect for humanitarian causes, and what the GOP-TP advocates today could not be more stark.
        In addition to protecting what he called the “safety net”, Reagan granted the only amnesty of immigrants who entered the USA without proper documentation, for the first and only time in decades. He also championed and signed legislation that allowed hundreds of thousands of Cubans to seek and receive asylum in the USA to escape the tyranny of the Castro regime.
        George W. Bush tried, repeatedly, to soften the stand of his most radical party members, culminating in the signing of legislation that allows immigrants from non-contiguous countries to seek and receive asylum in the USA.
        As ill-advised and counter productive as their foreign and domestic policies were, their record on this issue is clear and consistent with our most cherished values and traditions.
        In all fairness, the back pedaling of most senior Republicans on this issue contrasts with what their most loyal followers want, which is expressed without shame or ambiguity in this and other forums. The hatred, intolerance, and lack of compassion that they exhibit leaves very little doubt as to what is really behind their inhumane stand. Clearly, it has nothing to do with our ability to accommodate more immigrants, a country with a 1.89% fertility rate needs immigration, it has absolutely nothing to do with Central American immigrants bringing diseases or drugs to the USA and, in this instance, it has nothing to do with ILLEGAL immigration since the women and children flocking to our Southern border are going straight to our ports of entry, asking for asylum, and driven to processing facilities by our border patrol officers. The latter is reminiscent of what happened when some of our ancestors entered this country as recently as a century ago, without entry visas, and had to go through immigration facilities such as Ellis Island. My Dad did just that in 1920 when he, and tens of thousands of other immigrants, were coming to the land of opportunity to live in a country where those who worked hard, respected the law, and played by the rules prospered and enjoyed the peace and opportunities that their homelands denied them.

        • charleo1

          As you say, the affordance of protection, and sustenance to those who come to our borders, has long been a proud tradition of this Country. With it’s roots firmly grounded in a Christian Faith that not only spoke of the rightness of such actions, but demanded them, in fact, as what God expected of His Children. The Old Testament’s retelling of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, was implicit in
          the reason for the destruction of these two great cities, was due primarily to the peoples of those cities’ mean spirited, inhospitality toward strangers, and the poor. In fact all the Worlds great religions take special care to admonish it’s followers on treating those that come to one’s door with kindness, and generosity. As Jesus dwelled on this theme time, and again, “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.” —Matthew 10:14-15. So, the religion is clear. But, I believe there is something even more fundamental than religion going on here. Involving the naturalness of the Right of all human beings in the 200,000 years we’ve been on this planet, to leave that place where it is no longer possible to survive. Where crops fail, or where thieves, or hostile groups cannot be defeated. Where a living may not be made, or children may not exist, and play, and grow in safety. And then perhaps Man’s first advancement toward civilized existence was the idea that if a group was on the move as all were very often. And they crossed a territory in which another inhabited, to allow them safe passage, and they would do likewise. And by this one common courtesy, survival just became a lot more likely for all concerned. Then, from that one fundamental idea might have sprung an offering of help, and from that, a friendship, and alliances. And finally, what we know as Civilization itself. Advancement, from whatever it might have been that crawled out of the sea. But it all sprang from these two concepts. Both of which we seem to turning our backs on today.

        • Willis Cruz

          We don’t need MORE people any more. Our water resources are being severely stretched in the Southwest. Illegals are helping to make real estate costs unaffordable and killing the middle class with their demand for public welfare, thus increasing our taxes.

      • Willis Cruz

        These are economic reasons why many Americans feel disgust toward admitting more dependent, impoverished people into this country. Home ownership has become unaffordable in many parts of the country. Chinese are buying up real estate like crazy in the most desirable parts of the country. Everything has gone up in price, despite the government insisting that we have 1-2% inflation. We have a gov’t that listens to big corporations mostly and refuses to listen to the voice of the common man who is struggling. We can’t take in all of the world’s unfortunates. wilberforce needs to be rescinded quickly along with swift action to deport the illegals.

        • charleo1

          First of all there are economic problems of income
          disparity, wealth inequality, and stagnant wages, and so forth. And there are those Americans who are not sure of why, and they blame a lot things. The
          gov. Democrats, Republicans, welfare, corporate, and domestic, Socialism, Corporatism, inner city
          Black people, China, and impoverished immigrants.
          What we have developed in Central America is separate and apart from the immigration issue. What we have is a full blown humanitarian crisis. It has everything to do with the conditions in Honduras, and El Salvador. And nothing to do with our admittedly broken, and antiquated immigration system. I don’t mean to sound preachy. But, there is the right, and moral thing we should do here, for these desperate, mostly young Mothers, and very young boys, and girls. If we can spend 3 or 4 trillion in Iraq, and Afghanistan, Nation building, and whatever. We can do something to mitigate the situation in Central America. And give these people with no where else to turn, shelter, and protection, until such time as we do. Many would then want to return to their homes. My opinion. The right thing to do is seldom the easy thing to do. Which would be to change the existing law, return these people seeking our help here, to unknown circumstances, then turn our backs. I sincerely hope we’re better than that.

  • Dominick Vila

    The “Trafficking Victims Protection Re-Authorization Act” signed into law by former President Bush on Dec. 23, 2008, is clear on this issue. That immigration law mandates that all illegal alien children be transferred to the Office of Refugee Re-setlement within 24 hours. No ambiguity in the language of that legislation.
    It is also important to note that the women and children that have been entering the USA without passports and visas, are not jumping fences or crawling through tunnels. They are walking straight to our border patrol officers, ask for asylum, and are immediately taken to processing facilities consistent with the law cited above.
    If the Murietta protesters and the disciples of David Duke don’t like it, contact the author of the legislation that signed it into law, and try to remember who opposed immigration law reform.
    They may also want to remember Reagan’s 1986 amnesty and, especially, Reagan’s wet foot-dry foot legislation, which granted asylum to Cubans escaping the Castro regime.
    The U.S. has a long tradition of welcoming those escaping misery and persecution. I doubt the lack of humanity the Tea Party members demonstrate time and again will impress too many people, change existing laws, or change our traditions and values, regardless of how offensive it may be for some to see dark skinned indigenous people entering the USA LEGALLY, consistent with the terms of our own laws!

    • James Bowen

      This law needs to be revoked so we cant deport them immediately. We do not have unlimited resources, and we can’t take in all of the world’s unfortunate people.

  • Mikey7a

    Decriminalize Drugs, end the idiotic War on Drugs. This would be a huge step, in giving these “gangs” nothing to fight about. If you devalue the products that they are killing people over, maybe the people in these 3rd world countries, could begin to take their homes back.

    Until then, most of us either came here, or are descendants of folks who came here seeking refuge from tyranny. These are women, and helpless children. Who, in good conscience, could send them back to almost certain death?

    Only the money grubbing TeaBag Taliban, that’s who could, and would, do such an UN-Christian act!

  • James Bowen

    We don’t have the space or the resources to let in all of the world’s unfortunate people. We have to acknowledge our limits.

  • Willis Cruz

    Wet Foot- Dry foot was a Clinton initiative:,_dry_feet_policy