One group of Americans almost has as much vacation as the French–Congress. However unlike many of Le Français, our lawmakers frequently leave for their respective breaks without having finished their work, in this case voting on important legislation. One such vote is the emergency funding–nearly $4 billion dollars–requested by President Obama to help care for the 52,000 unaccompanied immigrant children who are overwhelming our already stretched Border Patrol, immigration courts, detention centers, and local communities. Congress is scheduled to vote on a fraction of this figure–$659 million dollars–which includes mobilizing the National Guard to the border and “speedier” deportation of children back to Central America.
This is the issue discussed with MSNBC host Craig Melvin, in addition to the takeaway of President Obama’s meeting with the leaders of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to find cooperation and immediate, medium, and long-term solutions to the root causes of this exodus.
I do not criticize the Republican Congress for this reduced funding figure or have concluded they are cold-hearted cheapskates. I do not slam Wild West tactics of deploying the National Guard to the border with no guarantee of proper training on detention and processing of child immigrants. After all, Congress is tasked with the obligation of advising and consenting. Indeed, this does not mean granting the President a blank check. But it means coming together–with members of both sides of the aisle, Mr. Obama, and within their own caucus–to solve problems. And that means negotiating with good Republican ideas–because they exist. For example, border Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake are proposing an annual 5,000 more visas for two years for refugees from Honduras–at least a start although human rights experts say this figure is no where near enough given the U.S.-grown gang and drug-cartel fueled violence giving this Central American country the distinction of having the world’s highest homicide rate.
However, some in Congress forget that the primaries are finito and that their districts elected them to help govern a whole country. The part is vital to the whole which is what blows my mind when I read about Republican shenanigan proposals. Case in point: Alabama Representative Mo Brooks’ proposal to spend money–$27 million dollars–to buy the unaccompanied children one-way tickets back home. Yes. The same kids the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has baptized refugees which I learned about and write in Why I Attended a Community Meeting about #Immigration. The same children protected by a 2008 anti-trafficking law that gives them due process versus a “speedy” deportation which is a good thing given that a U.N report shows that 40% are fleeing violence and not just poverty.
Common sense–not soundbites that set your base in fire–must rule. Deploying the National Guard is not a bad idea, as long as troops are properly trained, as Border Patrol agents are, to process these children. Same goes for bringing in temporary immigration judges and the support staff needed to accurately evaluate and decide the fate of traumatized children. Conducting due process via video conference? What is good for the goose is good for the gander. Perhaps lawmakers could save the country money by forgoing their regular airplane tickets home and attend town hall meetings, church coffees, and ribbon cutting ceremonies via Skype or Facetime.
These kids need to receive care while they’re in our custody and be evaluated–their cases and their psyches– by properly trained professionals. That means a uniform process that’s fair and devoid of politics, for example, adding poison pills that will be rejected by the Senate or vetoed by the President or just plain nonsense like suing the President under the auspices of executive overreach but it-sure-sounds-to-me-like-just-‘cuz. These children are indeed testing our immigration system and budgets. They are also testing our moral standing in the world. This issue is forcing a question of leadership–not from behind as the President has been criticized for doing in Syria. Rather, the question casting scrutiny on our standing as a world leader is if are we leading. Of course, if Congress leaves for recess without a vote, we’ve completely abandoned our leadership post.I’m not a gambling woman but if I were, I wouldn’t put down a cent on Congress voting to authorize these emergency funds. How about you?