Incensed by President Obama’s plan to deport thousands of immigrant children who have arrived in the United States illegally in recent months, activists have taken to the streets to chide the president. Many protests have included children. At one, a young boy can be seen carrying a sign that reads, “No deportation of children fleeing violence and poverty.”
I, too, care about children facing violence and poverty, and that’s why I support the Obama administration’s plan to expedite deportations.
Last weekend, 82 people were shot in Chicago, the president’s hometown — 16 died. But don’t feel bad if you didn’t know this. Recent media coverage of the child border crisis has dwarfed coverage of many of the very real problems Americans are already grappling with, particularly low-income Americans of color. The shootings that took place this week were concentrated on Chicago’s South Side, which consists predominantly of African Americans, including plenty of children. And while the Obama administration has made enormous policy strides for some disenfranchised groups, it has struggled to address the policy and economic needs of poor black Americans.
Gay Americans have benefited from his commitment to seeing the end of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” and passionate support for same-sex marriage. Young Americans who have spent their lives living here illegally, known as Dreamers, are benefiting from the work permits the president authorized via Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or his DACA order, despite the failure of Congress to act on their behalf. But prior to the launch of Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper, the administration had frequently been criticized for its lack of specific initiatives that were targeted toward improving the lives, particularly, of African Americans.
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Why? The most common speculation tends to be best summarized by two words: “limited capital” — both budgetary and political. Which is what makes it frustrating that some expect the president to expend his limited capital helping children who are not his responsibility at the expense of children who are.
On Tuesday the president requested $3.7 billion to address what is quickly morphing from an immigration crisis to a disaster. While much of the funds will be spent on border security and deterrence, at least $1.8 billion will be spent on caring for the children here illegally. That number is only to cover the needs of children here temporarily. The costs would skyrocket if they remained here permanently.
Although there is a great deal of hyperbole and exaggeration often used in discussions of the costs of illegal immigration to the American economy, even the lowest numbers are high. According to FactCheck.org, which debunks partisan-fueled policy and data inaccuracies, the lowest credible estimate for the costs to the American economy posed by those here illegally is $1.9 billion, while the highest that has been cited is $19.3 billion. Either way, once you are discussing billions of dollars, you are not talking about an insignificant amount of money.
And that money could be used elsewhere, including to help American children already living here who are facing violence and poverty on a daily basis, such as those facing staggering violence in Chicago.
A 2013 survey of law enforcement found that an overwhelming majority of agencies believe that their efforts have been hampered by federal budget cuts. According to the findings, “Not only have programs been reduced or eliminated, but many respondents reported reduced staffing levels and pay or hiring freezes. Sixty-four percent of law enforcement agencies reported reductions in staffing due to the cuts, while that number climbed to 65 percent for juvenile-justice and prevention programs and 72 percent for corrections departments.” The survey also found that 43 percent of cuts to the programs of those surveyed were in the double digits.
Yet despite the fact that our government is struggling to fund initiatives that could protect children already in this country, the president is still being pressured to take responsibility for the futures of thousands of additional children. That isn’t fair to the president, and most of all, it isn’t fair to our children. I have long supported allowing Dreamers — children brought here illegally who have spent their entire lives here — a path to college and citizenship. But the fact is, if we are complicit in allowing thousands of additional children to follow them here and remain here, soon we will not be able to provide any resources for Dreamers or any other American children, and that would be irresponsible and un-American.
Keli Goff is special correspondent for The Root.com.
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