It’s a revealing video.
Not in the sense of physical nakedness. No, what is naked in that clip is a kind of political opportunism that has become all too common.
Our scene is a roadside in Oracle, Arizona, where protesters have gathered. Word is, a busload of children from Central America is about to pass through, en route to a local shelter. People are there to shout at the bus.
Among them: Adam Kwasman, a Tea Party candidate for Congress. On the video, run by KPNX, a Phoenix TV station, Kwasman is seen inveighing against the flood of unaccompanied minors now showing up on the nation’s southern border when someone whispers to him and he abruptly cuts his spiel short. It seems the bus is coming.
Kwasman hustles out to the road to protest this incursion and, more importantly, to be seen protesting it. He tweets out a picture of a yellow school bus, telling a reporter afterward, “I was able to actually see some of the children in the buses and the fear on their faces.”
But these immigrant children are not frightened. They are also not immigrants. Rather, they turn out to be American kids bound for summer camp, giggling and using their cellphones to take pictures of the demonstrators and the media horde. A chagrined Kwasman is forced to apologize. The rumored bus full of migrant children never arrives.
It’s funny, yes. But that incident last week is also sad for what it says about the state of American politics.
Assume the bus had been the “right” one. You’re still left with the reality that a bunch of adults — one a candidate for Congress — thought it a good idea to interdict a bunch of children who had just survived a long and terrifying journey from Central America, arrived alone in a strange land and been taken into custody — and yell at them to go back “to Mexico.” In English.
What they wanted to happen hardly speaks better of those people than what actually did. But it is part and parcel of what now passes for political discourse in this country. And rather than elevate that discourse, our “leaders” routinely coarsen it.
Which is, I suppose, easier than actually confronting a problem.
How long has Congress been content to do nothing on immigration reform? President Bush pushed a reasonable plan in 2006, only to see it shot down by his own party out of a thinly veiled calculation that a measure offering even the slightest hope to Spanish-speaking peoples would not play well with the base. Despite declaring immigration reform a second-term priority, President Obama has been unable to get action out of a Congress more interested in kneecapping him than in doing any work.
You can only kick the can down the road for so long before you run out of road. Children are showing up at our border like foundlings left on a doorstep. Yet our putative leaders still cannot grapple seriously with the problem. Rather than getting to work on solutions that balance compassion with the need to protect our borders, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) claims this is happening because Obama “has been promising amnesty” (he hasn’t) while Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) says the kids are carrying the Ebola virus (they aren’t). Now, there goes candidate Kwasman, yelling at the wrong bus. If elected, he’ll fit right in.
No, the president is not blameless. Warned of a surge of unaccompanied minors showing up at the border two years ago by Texas governor Rick Perry, he apparently did nothing. Now we have a reported 57,000 children intercepted since October. That failure is troubling and if it exacts a political price, so be it.
But ultimately it’s these acts of political gamesmanship that are most galling. What kind of human being looks at a humanitarian crisis and thinks: photo op? So OK, if they won’t offer a solution, I will:
Let’s keep the kids. Deport Congress instead.
(Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, FL, 33132. Readers may contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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