July 9, 2014

Not dead yet?

OUR OPINION: As children cross the border, time is running out for an immigration overhaul

The unchecked flood of unaccompanied children crossing the U.S./Mexico border underscores the need for federal immigration reform.

The humanitarian crisis caused by the exodus of some 50,000 children who have come to this country in recent months is the issue’s symbolic “burning house,” and its impact is reaching as far as Miami-Dade County, among other regions that are hundreds of miles from the border.

Showing foresight, district school officials are bracing for a possible influx. The school system is preparing to ask the federal government for funding to help deal with children who make their way to South Florida’s public schools. Good move.

As time ticks away on reform, President Obama is taking matters into his own hands, as he must given Congress’ recalcitrance. But is he doing enough, even in the PR department? This week, President Obama asked Congress for $3.7 billion to stem the tide of kids crossing the border and better care for those who are already here — a wise request. However, did President Obama blunder Wednesday by visiting the border state of Texas for fundraisers, but not making a stop at the detention centers where some children are housed? U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat from Texas, said this might have been Obama’s “Hurricane Katrina moment” a la George W. Bush, who seemed detached as New Orleans fell into the grips of despair after the 2005 storm. Mr. Obama should know by now that it’s politically dangerous to ignore a “burning house.”

Will a congressional leader take the lead and revive the push for immigration reform? U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, is on the forefront of the issue and told the Miami Herald Editorial Board this week that immigration reform is still debatable in Congress, but on life support.

“If we don’t get it done in the next few weeks, it will get harder to do,” he said. He should be commended for not giving up just yet.

In the conundrum that is immigration reform, the onus of stopping the flood of unaccompanied children isn’t solely on the United States. Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador should be pressured to better prevent their citizens from crossing borders. Why doesn’t Mexico intercept the freight trains, nicknamed La Bestia — The Beast — that transport these children to El Norte? How can it be that coyotes and drug cartels now control the human traffic across our southern border? Let’s put some boots, in the form beefed-up, better-targeted border patrols, on the ground there, as the president wants to do.

A well-intentioned law created in the waning days of the Bush administration — to protect minors brought into the country for prostitution — has a loophole large enough for The Beast to chug through. The William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Act offered substantial protections to unaccompanied children, except those from Mexico and Canada. It prohibited the government from immediately deporting them to their home countries. Now, children from Central America must be processed and housed.

Modifying that loophole — while continuing to protect these children fleeing violence at home — could be part of fixing our broken immigration system, but House Republicans have refused to deal with the issue.

Immigration reform should standardize and control the influx of all immigrants. Unfortunately, reform has been delayed longer than it ever should have been, and many, including President Obama, believe it will not be possible in the immediate future.

Mr. Diaz-Balart still believes that reform can be achieved this year. Let’s hope his optimism isn’t misplaced.

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