Border Crisis: Fictions v. Facts (Part 2 of “Children from Central America”)

Despite extensive media coverage, there is probably much that you don’t know about the history of the border crisis—and what we can or should do in response. Too often the headlines are designed to stir passions, rather than inform.

At the end of next week, Congress will leave for its five-week August Recess. Between now and then legislators will be debating the issues, and no doubt many of your friends will be taking positions.

Here are the facts you need when weighing what you hear–whether on television or at a neighbor’s barbecue.

  •  Are you aware that since President Obama took office, it has become harder for illegal immigrants to cross our Southwestern border? This is something Fox News doesn’t usually mention.
  •  Did you know that even if we deport the tens of thousands of children who have come here since last October, many refugee experts agree they’ll try again—and that other children will follow them? In other words, they say, deportation will not serve as a deterrent. These kids are running for their lives.
  • Are you aware that in the past the U.S. has backed military coups and paramilitary death squads in Central America? As democratically-elected governments toppled, constitutional order collapsed, and the gangs took over the streets.  Does this mean that we are in part responsible for the exodus of kids fleeing violence at home? That is a difficult question, but definitely worth thinking about.
  • Did you know that the most powerful gangs originated in Los Angeles?  In the 1990s, we began deporting these thugs (via ConAir), and dumped them back in countries ill-equipped to police them.
  • Had you heard that the kids coming in today are not trying to avoid border patrols? They are rafting, swimming, and walking into the U.S. in broad daylight. So the problem is not that we don’t have enough border patrols to “secure the border. “ The new immigrants are eager to turn themselves over to border officials. Why? In 2008, former President George W. Bush signed the “William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act.” This bipartisan measure mandates that the border patrols cannot simply send unaccompanied minors from Central America back to their home countries. The U.S. government must try to find responsible relatives in the U. S. and place the children with them (or in foster homes) while they await a hearing before an immigrant court judge.

Understanding this law–and why it passed so easily in 2008—is key to understanding the legal and moral quandary that President Obama and Congress now face.

  • Finally, how many Americans are aware that, despite high unemployment rates in the U.S., we face a labor shortage? We need more immigrants willing to pick crops, work construction, and provide long-term care for baby-boomers.

Canada’s population also is aging, and Canada  is welcoming them l —part of that  country’s embrace of multiculturalism. We are not. Are we missing something?

All in all, this crisis is far more complicated than most reports acknowledge.

Before you decide where you stand on the issue, you might want to consider the media myths vs. the facts below.

                                        On President Obama’s Role

Fiction:  President Obama’s lax immigration policies have encouraged children to stream into this country.

Fact: As marauding gangs have taken over cities in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, children have been fleeing, not only to the U.S. , but to Nicaragua, Panama, Mexico, Cost Rica and Belize.

 From 2008 to 2013, the UN High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) has documented a 712% increase in the number of Central Americans applying for asylum in those five countries.

Clearly President Obama’s policies on immigration did not drive their decision to seek safe haven in Panama or Costa Rica.

Fiction: Reports of violence in Central America have been greatly overblown. These children are coming to the U.S. in search of jobs, social services and better living conditions.

Fact: Street gangs in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador torture and execute young boys who refuse to join. As I explained in part 1 of this post gang members also pick out young girls who they want to be their “girl-friends”—which means they will be raped by one or more members of the gang. Neither their families nor the police can protect them. This is why they run.

According to the U.S. State Department, Guatemala now has one of the highest violent crime rates in Latin America. El Salvador reports the second-highest murder rate in Latin America, and Honduras ranks #1, world-wide.

There, child murders are up 77% from just a year ago.

Finally, note that Nicaragua, which is the poorest nation in mainland Latin America (and the second poorest in the Western Hemisphere, after Haiti)  has seen a 238% increase in asylum applications from Central Americans in the last year. This serves as strong evidence that desperate children and families are not seeking “economic opportunities.”

There are no opportunities in Nicaragua. They are fleeing the mayhem at home.

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Cantor’s Defeat—What It Does Not Mean– Part 1

Shocked by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s defeat in last week’s Virginia primary, many in the media have decided that this “earthquake” has re-shaped the political landscape.

Immigration reform is dead, they say, and tea party radicals are far stronger than many suspected.

Meanwhile, the alarmists warn, political polarization has divided the country, poisoning our democracy. On that last point they are half-right; Republican voters have moved to the far right, while politically active Democrats are beginning to shift toward the left.

But polarization is not necessarily a threat to the Republic.  Pointed debate can clarify the issues– and underline what is at stake, raising voter awareness. Conservatives are making it clear what they are willing to sacrifice for the sake of their ideology, and mainstream Americans are becoming alarmed. For example, David Brat, the far-right conservative who defeated Eric Cantor, says that he would like to slash social security by 2/3.  This is a statement that could bring out voters who normally would not vote in a mid-term election.

As I will argue in part 2 of this post, at this point, too many mainstream America are not paying attention to the issues. “I’m just not interested in politics,” they say. Or, “I’ve given up on politicians.” A democracy needs a passionate, engaged electorate. Indifference is what will poison the Republic.

Cantor’s Loss Does Not mean that “Immigration Reform is Dead”

The conventional wisdom says that, until recently, President Obama had been waiting for the House to act on immigration reform. Supposedly, Eric Cantor, the House Majority leader, was open to some sort of compromise on an overhaul of immigration law, and this is why he lost the primary.

Not so fast.

First, this is not all up to the House. Obama could use his executive authority to limit deportations.

Speaking at a fundraiser the day after the primary, President Obama said: “It’s interesting to listen to the pundits and the analysts and some of the conventional wisdom talks about how the politics of immigration reform seem impossible now. I fundamentally reject that.” 

An Army of Refugee Children Flood Our Borders–What Should We Do?

Even as the president spoke, thousands of children from Central America continued to surge across our border, seeking an escape from the violence and poverty of Central America.

Once minors get into the U.S., they typically turn to immigration agents for protection. Under a  law passed during the George W. Bush administration, children, unlike adults, cannot simply be deported.  They must be turned over to Health and Human Services, and protected while their case is decided. Some will go to court where Legal Aid lawyers will argue that they will be in danger if they return home. Others will be reunited with relatives in the U.S. Some will ultimately be deported–but this could take years.

On Fox Special Report with Bret Baier, political analyst Brit Hume paid tribute to these lone childrens” struggle and their courage: “The immigrant children illegally crossing American borders by the thousands have triggered a logistical, humanitarian and law enforcement crisis to which current US immigration policy has no satisfactory answer.

“It may be tempting to call for their deportation,” he added, “but that ignores an important consideration: what the minor children, most of them unaccompanied by adults, had to go through just to get here.

“Nearly all are from Guatamala, El Salvador and Honduras, three countries plagued by extraordinary levels of drug and gang violence. Honduras now has the highest per capita murder rate in the world.”

“I have seen some of these kids,” Hume told his audience. “A youth home where I serve on the board here in Virginia has taken in dozens of them.  They are remarkable kids from what I have seen of them.  They are well behaved. When meals are served some of them weep at the fact that they’re eating better than their families can back home.  They wait till all are served before they’ll eat. They turn up at prayer services.  . . .  They potentially could make an enormous contribution to this country if we can find a way to house them and care for them and let them stay”. (Hat-tip to Digby for calling attention to Hume’s impassioned speech.)

The flood of young refugees, crossing into this country daily– and overflowing holding centers—casts a spotlight on their plight, making it clear that illegal immigration is not a problem that we can ignore. We just don’t know what to do with these children.

One Boy’s Story

“‘Where I live, parents are obligated to give a son to the gangs,'” Carols, a 17-year-old from Honduras told Bloomberg, while fighting back tears. An uncle who tried to defy the criminals paid with his life.

Another child showed Bloomberg his right hand: before he fled Honduras, a gang had accosted him on the street and amputated the tips of two fingers

“If you want to live, you have to leave your family,” a third 16-year-old confided.

“Carlos’ journey of 1,700 miles (2,700 kilometers) took about a month by bus and foot,” Bloomberg reports. When he arrived in northern Mexico, just a quarter mile from the border, he  explained that he hasn’t decided whether he’ll try to reach an uncle in Houston clandestinely or voluntarily surrender to border agents.

“’If I do that, they could deport me,” Carlos explained

“That could be fatal,” the reporter observed.
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