By Linda Chavez
Some 50,000 unaccompanied minors have crossed our borders in recent months, and those capable of helping resolve the crisis won’t even talk to each other much less come up with a decent plan. This week, President Obama asked Congress for supplemental appropriations to deal with processing the minors and to discourage more from coming, but House Republicans so far have balked at considering the request. “We are not giving the president a blank check,” House Speaker John Boehner declared. Republicans want the administration to do more to stop the flow of kids into the U.S., which is reasonable.
So why don’t the two men sit down and work it out? That’s their job. Instead, both sides seem more worried about their political bases than they do about solving the problem.
Obama worries that if he pushes too tough of a line by seeking changes to the law that would allow for expedited removal of the kids, he’ll alienate Hispanic voters. And besides, GOP recalcitrance to provide money to properly house these kids makes Republicans look mean, which helps Democrats with more moderate voters, especially women, in the months leading up to the midterm elections.
Republican leaders worry that anything that looks like being soft on illegal immigration — even if it means providing decent beds and meals to little kids — will enrage the small fraction of the GOP base that stokes the fires on this issue. What’s more, releasing these children to relatives in the U.S. while they await deportation proceedings likely encourages more kids to come.
Last year, fewer than 4,500 unaccompanied minors were deported or allowed to leave voluntarily after hearings before immigration judges. Republicans argue — not without justification — that the low odds that unaccompanied minors will be sent home send the message to families that all they have to do is get their kids across the border to keep them safe.
But none of these reasons justifies doing nothing. Republicans should take up bills to appropriate money to provide proper shelter to the kids, as well as to hire more immigration judges so that their cases can be adjudicated as required by law.
But the administration must do more to close loopholes in current law that allow unaccompanied minors from Central America to be treated differently than Mexican kids — who are processed expeditiously and sent home with the agreement of their government.
And immigrant advocates need to step up, as well. The huge influx of unaccompanied minors this year virtually guaranteed that the House would not take up sensible changes in law to admit more immigrants legally. Immigration opponents have been claiming for years that our borders are not secure, and this influx — erroneously — seems to prove the point. Never mind that illegal immigration is lower now than it has been in decades. Never mind that the Obama administration has, in fact, deported more illegal immigrants than any administration in history. The kids aren’t sneaking across the border; they walk up to border patrol agents and plead: “Apprehend me.”
Nonetheless, immigration reform advocates — as I surely am — need to make it clear that we want the kids to stop coming. It is dangerous for them and an unfair burden on American taxpayers. And, from a purely pragmatic position, the continued migration makes comprehensive reform far less likely. The anti-reform crowd couldn’t have come up with a more effective strategy to derail immigration reform than to send a children’s crusade across our southern border.
Solving the border crisis is not rocket science. The long-term solution requires changes to U.S. law that would allow more immigrants and guest workers to come here legally. We need their skills (high and low), they boost our economy, and it is who we are: a nation built by immigrants.
But right now, our elected officials need to quit playing politics. They need to feed, shelter and care for the kids who are already here in proper, humanitarian fashion — as required by U.S. law. But they must also discourage more kids from coming, and like it or not, that means sending the new arrivals home as quickly (and humanely) as legally feasible.
Both of these actions require the White House and Congress to work out their differences. It’s time to stop playing politics with the kids.
Linda Chavez is the author of “An Unlikely Conservative: The Transformation of an Ex-Liberal.” To find out more about Linda Chavez, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.