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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Children from Central America Surge Across Our Border: Congress Must Now Decide Whether to Change the Immigration Law that George W. Bush Signed in 2008

If you think fertilized eggs are people but refugee kids aren’t, you’re going to have to stop pretending your concerns are religious– Syd’s SoapBox

News reports have been filled with conflicting theories explaining why tens of thousands of unaccompanied children from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, have been streaming into the U.S.  Some observers say that their parents are sending them here, so that they can take advantage of the social services and free education available in the U.S. Others argue that they are not coming here willingly, but that they have been forced to flee gang violence in their home countries that ranges from murder to rape. Still others charge that President Obama’s lax immigration policy has drawn these migrants to the U.S.

Unfortunately many of the reports circulating in the media and the blogosphere are not backed up by evidence.  Even worse, the American Immigration Council  (AIC) says, “some are intentionally aimed at derailing the eventual overhaul of our broken immigration system. 

I have been fact-checking those reports for more than two weeks.  Below, a summary of you need to know as we debate this tangled story.

The AIC recently released a report, based on documented interviews with more than 350 children from El Salvador which states that  “crime, gang threats, or violence appear to be the strongest determinants for childrens’ decisions to emigrate.

Typically, the gangs try to recruit children. If they refuse, they and/or family members are shot. 

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) offers charts showing how that in 2012, the murder rate in Honduras in was a whopping 30 percent higher than UN estimates of the civilian casualty rate at the height of the Iraq war. The charts  also reveal that, statistically speaking, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador are twice as dangerous for civilians as Iraq was.

Writing on Vox, Amanda Taub explains why minors are in special danger: “Children are uniquely vulnerable to gang violence. The street gangs known as “maras” — M-18 and Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13 — target kids for forced recruitment, usually in their early teenage years, but sometimes as young as kindergarten. They also forcibly recruit girls as “girlfriends,” a euphemistic term for a non-consensual relationship that involves rape by one or more gang members.”  

This is what 15-year-old Maritza told the UNCHR when it interviewed hundreds of the fleeing children: “One member of the gang  “liked” me. Another gang member told my uncle that he should get me out of there because the guy who liked me was going to do me harm. In El Salvador they take young girls, rape them and throw them in plastic bags.”

Maritza’s uncle knew that neither he nor the police could protect her. “My uncle told me it wasn’t safe for me to stay there. They told him that on April 3, and I left on April 7.”
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IRS ruling a ‘disaster for Obamacare?’ Not quite. Ruling may be ‘unfortunate,’ but it won’t leave ‘millions’ uninsured

Under the Affordable Care Act, Americans who are not offered “affordable” insurance at work can purchase coverage in the ACA’s health insurance exchanges, where many will be eligible for generous subsidies.

The law defines “affordable” as insurance that costs less than 9.6 percent of income. But the ACA doesn’t specify whether it is referring to individual coverage or family coverage, which is always far more expensive. The wording is ambiguous, an “oversight,” say many legislators.

Now the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has ruled that the government will look at the cost of coverage for an individual – not a family – when deciding if a plan is “affordable.”

A disaster for Obamacare?

Earlier this week, Forbes ran a story about the rule under a headline that blared, “IRS Ruling to Create Millions of Uninsured Americans as It Undermines the Very Intent of Obamacare.”

Forbes’ take plays right into the conservative claim that Obamacare is a disaster. “We are now entering the crucial phase of the law’s enactment,” crows blogger Dwight L. Schwab, “and many critics are saying, ‘I told you so.’”

Whoa! Let’s look at Forbes’ argument, and the numbers.

Fear-mongering vs. facts

Forbes observes that, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s 2012 survey of employee benefits, on average, workers contribute $951 annually for an individual plan. But those buying family coverage fork over $4,316, “a number well in excess of the 9.5% of earnings for someone making just $35,000 a year.” Yet, under the IRS decision, “only the portion of the contribution attributable to the individual employee” can be “considered for the purpose of determining what is affordable – not the entire contribution.”

Forbes’ contributor Rick Ungar offers an example: If an employee who earns $35,000 and “is the sole breadwinner in the family” pays less than $3,325 annually for his own insurance … “nobody in the family qualifies for participation on the healthcare exchanges and nobody can qualify for the intended government subsidies.” If the employee signs up for a family plan with his employer it would cost “over 12 percent of their annual income … a crushing amount.”

“The result,” Ungar says, “will be millions of spouses and children left to go uninsured.”

Millions uninsured???

Let’s begin with that last sentence. Just how many children would be shut out? Bruce Lesley, president of First Focus, a children’s advocacy group, estimates that 500,000 children could remain uninsured.

A U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report offers a similar estimate … that “460,000 children may be left uninsured if states stop funding the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) beyond 2015.” (Funding ends in 2015 because legislators assumed the ACA would protect kids.) “Federal funding could be extended,” the GAO notes. (My guess is that, if necessary, Congress would expand CHIP funding.)

But what about the mothers? If 500,000 children might be affected, that means that, at most, 500,000 mothers would be left uninsured. But in most of these cases, parents may well have have two children, sometimes more. Let’s assume that, on average, they have two children. That means 250,000 mothers (half of 500,000) might find themselves uninsured because of the IRS rule.  Add those 250,000 mothers to a maximum of 500,000 children, and 750,000 people wind up “going naked” as insurers put it.

Married couples who don’t have children also should be counted. If only one spouse works, and they cannot afford the family plan his employer offers, another adult could be left out. But, these days, few married women under 65 who don’t have children stay at home. We’re still far from “millions.”

Forbes’ example

Forbes’ example of a single-breadwinner family is the exception, not the rule. Among families earning $25,000 to $60,000, 67 percent of mothers and 85 percent of fathers work.In these cases, couldn’t each parent purchase insurance through their employer?

Note: The post originally appeared on Healthinsurance.org  To find the answer to that question, and why the Forbes Op-ed represents “fear-mongering, pure and simple”, please click here.  If you like, come back here to comment.

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