Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. That is the reality thousands of Central Americans face when deciding whether living in the shadows of violence, lawlessness and poverty at home is worse than paying a corrupt “coyote” to smuggle their children into the United States.
In these countries, children and teens are inherently vulnerable to violence. In some parts of El Salvador, for example, young girls are taken by gang members and criminal syndicates to be raped and later stuffed into plastic bags. Boys are coerced into violent gangs. To resist membership means family members, including parents, will be targeted for violent retribution. Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world affecting adults and children alike.
These are some of the key findings of a study of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The statistics are alarming and heart-wrenching but they don’t completely explain why the United States is seeing a dramatic increase in the influx of unaccompanied children coming over the Rio Grande in recent months.
There remains the underlying story of abject poverty in Central America compelling families to send young men and women, boys and girls, to the United States. The goal is to make money here and send American dollars home. Their families are counting on it; their home governments are, as well. President Obama would do well to ask that the members of the Organization of American States (OAS) earn their diplomatic stay in Washington D.C. by actually working for it. The root cause of the problem lies at the doorstep of many of their member countries.
This is a hemispheric human crisis that the United States should pressure the OAS to address as a top priority. Increased narco-trafficking, gang violence, human trafficking, violence against women and arms smuggling are all shared problems that are emigrating to our country along with those hoping to escape the. If these governments individually are unable to deal with the criminal elements in their countries — some that stem from the FARC in Colombia who slither into the United States to traffic in drugs, weapons, women and children — then they should set aside their differences on other issues and work together through the OAS. The OAS won’t do this in any meaningful way unless the United States pressures it to do so.
Working through the OAS bureaucracy is a long-term solution. The short-term solution requires the White House and Congress to put aside their differences and reach an agreement before the president plays another round of golf and Congress takes off for its August vacation — sorry — district and state work period. Obama missed a moment for leadership in not visiting the border hearing from citizens just how disruptive and disheartening the situation has become.
Voters in Texas, California and Arizona are right to feel abandoned by the federal government as they are forced to fend for themselves to protect the integrity of state and national borders. This crisis has been brewing for years; unfortunately, it was politically incorrect to report and address. The borders were already secure, right? Nope.
The White House must enforce existing immigration laws and Congress must write laws that reinforce the border. They don’t have to call it immigration reform if it causes too much heartburn; they can call it whatever they want, but they need to get it done now.
The stories and the faces of the children and women heart-breaking, but coming to the United States illegally won’t solve their families’ problems. Our country cannot absorb the chaos. As the undocumented are spread across the country to go through so-called processing, U.S. citizens — including those of Latin American origin — are going to lose patience. The primary season saw a few surprising upsets. As voters start seeing more and more illegal immigrants in states like Michigan and Ohio who aren’t as accustomed to the immigration waves as we are in the South, maybe we’ll see another upset or two in the general election. That’s one aspect of the story that might be not being so heart-breaking.