As I am sure you have heard by now, in recent months a surge of tens of thousands of illegal immigrants from Central America have been apprehended at our border with Mexico, straining our government’s ability to deal with them. Many of these people are women with children, while, amazingly, others are unaccompanied minors. Most of them are fleeing desperate situations in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala where order has broken down and anarchy runs rampant. Unlike illegal immigrants from Canada or Mexico, we can’t promptly return these people to their home countries. Border Patrol resources are over taxed and the facilities used to house all of these people are strained to the breaking point. The shear number of these immigrants is creating a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions.
One would think that this is one problem where the politicians in Washington could put aside partisan politics and work together on a solution. The Republicans in the House and Senate have long relied on a strategy which has earned them the nickname, “the party of NO”. However, most of the border states which are most feeling the strain have Republicans governors and many Republican Senators and House members. One would think that those politicians would be anxious to come up with solutions. However it is an election year and obviously the opportunity to score political points by blaming the other side far outweighs any incentive to solve the problem. Border state Republican politicians have not missed an opportunity to blame the President’s immigration stance for the problem. John Boehner, who early in the week blamed GOP house members for blocking immigration reform, then regained his partisan footing. In a recent rant he blamed the President Obama shouting, ‘”This is a problem of his own making. He has been President for five and a half years, when is he going to take responsibility for something?”
Of course Boehner seems to conveniently forget that the President has been trying to get him to agree to a compressive bill to reform our broken immigration system for years. Boehner knows full well that if he would simply allow the immigration bill which has already passed by the Senate to come to a vote in the House, it would pass with the support of Democrats and moderate Republicans. However, the Speaker has been reluctant to upset his Tea Party colleagues in the House so he has made it abundantly clear that he will not let the bill come to a vote. John Boehner should be nominated for an Academy Award for his theatrics.
To be fair what Boehner is referring to is the President stance that illegal aliens who are well established in the country should be provided with a (difficult) path to citizenship, which is also a view shared by many establishment Republicans. To the uninformed, however, there may seem to be a logical connection between the President’s stance on immigration and the current influx of immigrants from Central America, but such a connection is not supported by the facts on the ground. Those with an in depth understandings of the situation point to three principal causes for the current surge of immigrants from Central America and why they are overwhelming of our border patrol facilities and other resources:
1) Many refugees from Central American are fleeing for their lives. Gang violence in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras has escalated dramatically in recent months. The gangs are everywhere – threatening, extorting, kidnapping and killing. Police protection is almost nonexistent. Many caught up in that violence are deciding that it is less dangerous to undertake the hazardous journey north than to stay in place. In addition the economies in those countries are so bad that it is almost impossible to find a job. Residents of those countries are not only fleeing to the US. They are also seeking asylum in the neighboring countries of Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama and Nicaragua. Many attempting entrance illegally into the United States are drawn by family ties. During an civil war in Honduras in the late 1990’s and later during the 2002 earthquake in El Salvador, residents fleeing those two countries were granted protected status in the United State which allowed them to migrate and work in this country. Many are still here, but their families are still back in their home countries. Now that conditions have worsened back home, their relatives want to join them in the US. The improving US economy is also acting as a magnate for those who are just trying to just survive in some of the worse economic conditions in the world
2) Unscrupulous outlaws hoping to profit by transporting these desperate souls to the United States perpetuate the myth that if children can enter our country by whatever means, they will be allowed to stay. These “coyotes”, often members of drug cartels and other organized crime organizations, have even take out ads in the local newspapers in Central America advertising their services and falsely claiming that new laws in the United States mean that kids entering the United States will be welcomed with open arms. The going rate for the services of these scumbags is $5,000 to $6,000 per person so they are making millions off of their lies and the misery of others.
3) Unlike other illegal immigrate situations, we can not immediately return children from Central America apprehended at our southern border to their home countries. Enacted into law in the final days of the George W. Bush administration with the overwhelming support from both parties, the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (H.R. 7311) was supposed to combat the sex trafficking of children into the United States from other countries. The bill gave substantial new protections to minors (who are not from Mexico or Canada) who enter this country by providing them certain legal rights. They have to be provided a legal hearing where their lawyers, usually working pro bona, can present reasons why they should be considered refugees and thus not be deported. This process can take several months and, since they are in federal custody, they have to be housed, fed, and kept in relatively good conditions until the legal process plays out. It certainly doesn’t mean that these minors will be able to stay in this country as they believed, the vast majority will eventually be deported, but it does mean that the federal government has to take care of them for quite a while.
When combined these factors form into a perfect storm which results in tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors and mothers with children being held in federal facilities in our border states. Note that none of the main causes this surge can be attributed to President Oboma administration, though it can be blamed in part on our broken immigrations policy. However, regardless of the actual facts, the Republicans in congress have resorted to their usual M.O when confronted with a problem which Washington needs to fix – do nothing and blame the President. Their basic rhetoric on this issue boils down to two main points: 1) The President’s stance advocating a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants is an invitation to the immigrants from Central America. 2) If the President had effectively closed down our southern borders with Mexico, these people wouldn’t be entering the country. The fact that both of these claims are patiently false hasn’t stopped the Republicans. The most important thing on their minds is not solving this problem; it is winning the next round of elections. They are hoping that the electorate will be too distracted to see through their arguments.
The immigrants surging across our borders are not thinking long term. When your kids are in danger and you can’t keep them properly fed in the place you live, your first priority is the get them out of there and to somewhere safe. If you have relatives in the land of plenty where it is supposedly easy get a job and keep your family fed, that becomes destination number one. Your one concern might be that you might be deported back to your home country once you cross the US border. However, if you have been told that that won’t happen and believe that to be true, then this concern is no longer a deterrent. These people are probably not even aware of President Obama’s stance on illegal immigrants, and they could care less. When you are operating on the lowest levels of Marlowe’s priority of needs, nothing other the safety of your family and keeping them fed matters.
The Republicans’ claim that this surge is occurring because the President has not done enough to secure the border also doesn’t square with the facts. During the current administration, border security has been enhanced. By the end of 2016, 6 years into the Obama presidency, more illegal immigrants will have been deported then in the 8 years under George W. Bush. Even if Republicans want to quibble about that statistic, there is one fact they can’t deny. Border security is not the problem this time around. The women and children from Central America haven’t been able to sneak by our Border Patrol and then disappear into the heartland of our country as the Republicans would have you believe. In the vast majority of the cases they are promptly turning themselves into the first border security agent they can find with the firm belief that they won’t be sent back home. Apprehending these people has not been the problem. The problem is how the take care of them after they have been arrested.
This situation doesn’t have any easy solutions. Republicans in Congress may spend many hours on the major news channels talking about how bad the problem is, but they have shown absolutely no desire to resolve the issue. They don’t even seem to want to provide the additional funding necessary to provide the resources required to deal with the results of the problem until answers can be devised. In fact they seem more than happy to allow the situation to grow far worse as long as they believe that they can use it as a lever to regain political power.
However, even if the two parties miraculously decided to work together on the issue, the best way forward is far from clear. On the one hand we can’t let everyone who decides it would be better to live in our country enter the country and stay. If we did we would soon be overrun. And we certainly don’t want encourage women and their babies, and especially unaccompanied children, to make that long, hazardous journey from Central America to our border. Far too may are raped or die in the process. On the other hand how can we ignore the tragic situations that these people must have faced in their home countries to believe that such a trip is the better option.
On a plaque on the Statue of liberty is a poem “The New Colossus,” written by Emma Lazarus in 1883. The most famous verses are the eternal words of compassion attributed to Lady Liberty herself:
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Our challenge is to continue to respect our laws and secure our territorial integrity while staying true to these words which speak to one of the very foundations of our country.