Overheard: for President Obama, the unaccompanied children flooding the border has forced immigration from policy to politics. This assertion reflects a Beltway echo chamber, resulting in a disconnect that fails to capture the desperate reality of millions of immigrants living in Immigration Purgatory, including the newest–the flood of an estimated 52,000 children who have recently arrived, trekking alone from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.
Unfortunately, our national political culture is as broken as our immigration system. Case in point, the White House switcheroo–from “humanitarian crisis” to “humanitarian situation.” Perhaps good, legal grounding exists between the words “crisis” and “situation.” But having reported in Washington, D.C. since 2006, I know a thing or two about the political semantics of you-say-potato-and-I-say-poh-tah-toe, particularly when the spin cycle is in overdrive, amped up by the court of public opinion. This is the main topic discussed on MSNBC’s The Reid Report with fellow panelist Raúl Reyes and host Joy-Ann Reid, who devoted the full hour to examining this topic from domestic, foreign policy, and humanitarian angles.
As I write in “Unaccompanied Immigrant Children: Humanitarian Crisis? On MSNBC,” the escalating violence in Central America by transnational gangs, human trafficking rings, and drug cartels has prompted this mass exodus. Few people leave behind everything they know–families, language, and culture,
Which is why this crisis leads back to our immigration system with a comprehensive and long view approach that includes our foreign policy towards these Central American nations. The assertion that “the border is secure” is under scrutiny–as it should be. If 52,000 children make it across, the question follows: what else can and is coming through? Perhaps, drugs?
However, largely absent from the debate is attaching strings to our development, humanitarian, and military aid to these countries that nears $2 billion dollars. Benchmarks must force recipient nations to stamp out government corruption, impunity of criminals, and strengthen the judiciary. Our backed up immigration courts–59 of them–are overwhelmed with 366,758 cases that take an average of 578 days to process. Reform must unclog them since a weighed down bureaucracy makes it tempting for immigrants in proceedings to blow them off–of which a majority does.
These domestic and foreign policy points outline long-term solutions. However, the unaccompanied children are here, now, and have forced a basic question:
How do we treat them?
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops–not a bastion of liberalism–insists they are refugees fleeing violence. On the other end of the spectrum are extremists, including conservative pundits, Republican lawmakers, and the “internuts” such as those who trolled my Twitter after this appearance:
Think liberals are off the hook? Joy kept our panel for half an hour to give live analysis and reaction to a Senate hearing after the President announced a $3.7 billion dollar emergency funding request to handle the surge of unaccompanied kids. I listened with disbelief as the head of the Department of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson declared that the Administration’s solutions included the “speedy” removals of these children. Never mind a 2008 anti-trafficking law that requires Central American children, unlike those from Canada or Mexico, to receive a court date. Forget that some may qualify for asylum or a special visa. How about we ignore that some may have first degree relatives in the U.S. who can claim them. Or the violence many are fleeing. In six months, will I be reporting and commenting on the number of traffickers rounding up children arriving at the airports in Guatemala City, San Salvador, and Tegucigalpa to sell them into sex rings?
This surge is a direct result of our current immigration system, partly because of the misinformation with roots in nefarious Central American elements distorting the DREAMer deportation exemption and the 2008 anti-trafficking law signed by President George W. Bush. Yet also at play is the refusal of our elected officials–led by House Republicans–to fix what’s broken, thoroughly exposing our national security, our economy that needs immigrant labor, and our communities where these immigrants live, work, and worship. Opting for heated rhetoric triggered by lobbing the loaded word “amnesty” does little more than create paralysis when what we need are solutions to a complex problem. Lose the Tough Guy posturing Mr. President and Republican lawmakers. It does little more than weaken our borders, neighborhoods, and now with the unaccompanied children who face “speedy” deportations–our moral fabric.
Click below to watch the video of my appearance on The Reid Report which aired on July 10, 2014.What action will the President and Congress take to address the increase in children coming to America alone?