Opinion

Who Is to Blame for the Border Crisis?

This Hispanic activist faults Obama — and calls on Congress to resolve the situation.

Daniel Garza serves as the executive director of the LIBRE Initiative, a nonprofit, nonpartisan grassroots organization that advances the principles and values of economic freedom to empower the U.S. Hispanic community so it can thrive and contribute to a more prosperous America.  
National Journal
Aug. 11, 2014, 1:23 p.m.

The false il­lu­sion Amer­ic­ans once held about the se­cur­ity of our na­tion’s bor­ders has been shattered. Those were days of in­no­cence. Now we face an im­mig­ra­tion swell driv­en in part by car­tel activ­ity, gang vi­ol­ence, and hu­man sex traf­fick­ing — as well as an ill-ad­vised ex­ec­ut­ive ac­tion. It has be­come a crisis we did not ask for, but it is a crisis we are now forced to reck­on with.

The ar­rival of thou­sands of needy Cent­ral Amer­ic­an chil­dren is test­ing Amer­ica. It has ex­posed a de­fi­ciency in lead­er­ship, tried our com­pas­sion, and forced us to ac­know­ledge our weak­ness in guard­ing our bor­ders.

Amer­ic­ans rightly think of them­selves as a com­pas­sion­ate people. Many routinely send money to min­is­tries who evan­gel­ize in far off corners of Asia. They take to so­cial me­dia to pro­mote aware­ness of the raped and the en­slaved in re­mote Africa. Mil­lions faith­fully spon­sor very poor chil­dren lan­guish­ing in third world coun­tries. But now, when the chal­lenge of scarcity and want ar­rives un­in­vited on our door­step, many Amer­ic­ans are torn.

Is this bur­den of im­mig­rant chil­dren (and adults) one we must ac­cept? Where will we house de­tain­ees? How will we ad­dress med­ic­al needs? Should we send them back—and how quickly? Isn’t someone else re­spons­ible for them? Who will pay for it all? These are the ques­tions of the day.

The world’s poorÅ“ — the crush of huddled hu­man­ity and the tired masse — have over­come our abil­ity to keep them out, and many Amer­ic­ans have drawn a line on their lim­its for com­pas­sion.

With an un­der­stand­able de­sire to pro­tect the in­teg­rity of our bor­ders and take a stand against a feel­ing of law­less­ness, Amer­ic­an cit­izens are block­ing DHS buses full of im­mig­rant chil­dren and are pack­ing town halls to call on politi­cians to send im­mig­rants back to their coun­tries of ori­gin. Even the lib­er­al gov­ernor of Mary­land has re­fused to ac­cept these chil­dren, while hy­po­crit­ic­ally say­ing it would be wrong to send them home.

Where is the pres­id­ent in all this? The fact is, Barack Obama is not without blame. It ap­pears that the uni­lat­er­al June 2012 ex­ec­ut­ive or­der cre­at­ing the De­ferred Ac­tion for Child­hood Ar­rivals pro­gram was mo­tiv­ated purely by polit­ic­al self-in­terest, with no re­gard for the surge it would set in mo­tion thou­sands of miles away. When Pres­id­ent Obama an­nounced to our hemi­sphere’s poor that his ad­min­is­tra­tion would turn a blind eye to the leg­al status of minors, we quickly saw the re­sponse in Cent­ral Amer­ica’s poverty-stricken shanty towns.

Many ar­gue that this or­der spurred thou­sands and thou­sands to travel across of­ten in­hos­pit­able and ar­id Mex­ic­an ter­rain. Wheth­er by foot, packed in buses, or on top of trains they will con­tin­ue to come. Ex­cept now im­mig­rants are run­ning to­ward U.S. Bor­der Agents, not from them. Sadly for them, Wash­ing­ton polit­ics sent them an en­graved in­vit­a­tion, but the flights re­turn­ing them to their home coun­tries have already be­gun. They are vic­tims of bad policy and our pres­id­ent’s clumsy at­tempts to bal­ance two op­pos­ing policy de­mands.

On one side of the ar­gu­ment are those who call for im­me­di­ate de­port­a­tion of any­one in­ter­cep­ted, caught and de­tained at the bor­der, without ex­cep­tion. Oth­ers would open the bor­ders to any­one ask­ing for asylum, claim­ing refugee status, or simply ex­press­ing de­sires to at­tain the Amer­ic­an Dream. It is an ar­gu­ment be­ing played out in Amer­ic­an me­dia out­lets, town halls, and the halls of gov­ern­ment.

Pre­dict­ably, in Wash­ing­ton, Amer­ica’s elec­ted lead­er­ship have stalled any agree­ment on im­me­di­ate ac­tion, just as they have done with the broad­er need to pass im­mig­ra­tion re­form. In line with what has be­come an all too com­mon re­sponse, the White House’s solu­tion is to throw more money at the is­sue — re­quest­ing nearly $4 bil­lion in emer­gency fund­ing but provid­ing no sus­tain­able plan to deal with the crisis. On the oth­er hand, Re­pub­lic­an mem­bers of Con­gress have voiced op­pos­i­tion to the re­ques­ted funds and are fo­cused in­stead on re­forms to an ex­ist­ing law that has been ab­used by those smug­gling in the chil­dren. As the de­bate drags on, the par­tis­an dead­lock has only worsened the situ­ation. Po­ten­tial fu­ture im­mig­rants are be­ing told every day that the Amer­ic­an bor­der re­mains por­ous as a res­ult of in­ac­tion on im­mig­ra­tion re­form that would sig­ni­fic­antly en­hance bor­der se­cur­ity.

All of this has res­ul­ted in hor­rendous polit­ic­al out­comes for both sides. A Ju­ly Wash­ing­ton Post poll shows 58 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans dis­ap­prove of the pres­id­ent’s hand­ling of the buildup of un­doc­u­mented chil­dren on the bor­der, com­pared with 33 per­cent who ap­prove. Even among Lati­nos, a 54 per­cent ma­jor­ity dis­ap­proves. Still, con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­ans have ac­tu­ally fared much worse, with 66 per­cent dis­ap­prov­ing of their hand­ling of the bor­der is­sue and just 23 per­cent ap­prov­ing.

Wheth­er His­pan­ics will be mo­tiv­ated to vote against Demo­crats for the in­eptitude they have demon­strated on everything im­mig­ra­tion, or to vote against the in­dif­fer­ence to the plight of im­mig­rants shown by a loud and vo­cal group of Re­pub­lic­ans re­mains to be seen. Either way, the pub­lic de­bate and policy that comes from it doesn’t have to come down to the two most ex­treme op­tions: “de­port them all” or “open bor­ders.”

Re­pub­lic­ans and Demo­crats can act in the in­terests of the chil­dren, pre­serve the dig­nity of the in­di­vidu­al, and all the while send a clear mes­sage to oth­ers con­sid­er­ing im­mig­rat­ing to Amer­ica il­leg­ally. That means ad­dress­ing the im­me­di­ate needs of each in­di­vidu­al im­mig­rant, provid­ing a speedy as­sess­ment of asylum claims through an im­me­di­ate ad­ju­dic­a­tion, re­uni­fy­ing any chil­dren with par­ents in­side the United States, and de­port­ing those who do not ful­fill the re­quire­ments of our cur­rent im­mig­ra­tion law. (That in­cludes the much-ma­ligned 2008 law meant to pro­tect those most vul­ner­able to the dan­ger­ous situ­ations of hu­man-traf­fick­ing and gang vi­ol­ence they face back home.)

It also means that Obama must stop threat­en­ing to take ex­ec­ut­ive ac­tion on is­sues that re­quire a per­man­ent, bi­par­tis­an solu­tion. If any­thing, the plight of im­mig­rant chil­dren caught up in this bor­der mess is yet an­oth­er re­mind­er that ar­bit­rary, polit­ic­ally self-in­ter­ested policies pro­duce ter­rible con­sequences. While this is ul­ti­mately a crisis born from in­com­pet­ence of lead­er­ship in the White House, it is partly due to Re­pub­lic­an in­ac­tion as well.

This crisis is test­ing our re­solve and for­cing us to ex­am­ine our own sense of com­pas­sion. It is also a crisis that can bring out our bet­ter an­gels, just as pre­vi­ous crises be­fore have done. In the end, in the face of so much need, the Amer­ic­an people will help im­mig­rant chil­dren.

It’s what we do. It’s what makes Amer­ic­ans ex­cep­tion­al.

Daniel Gar­za is the ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the LIBRE Ini­ti­at­ive, a non­profit, non­par­tis­an grass­roots or­gan­iz­a­tion that ad­vances the prin­ciples and val­ues of eco­nom­ic free­dom to em­power the U.S. His­pan­ic com­munity so it can thrive and con­trib­ute to a more pros­per­ous Amer­ica.

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