I’m willing to make the wildly optimistic assumption that the majority of Americans appreciate the complexity of the current situation on our border.
As such, their feelings in response to the influx of women and unaccompanied Central American minors are, well, complex.
Their hearts break at the images of small children with tear-stained cheeks and searching eyes. The phrase “We are a nation of immigrants” cycles through their minds.
They also feel an instinctive inclination toward order, an appreciation that borders and laws exist for good reasons (economic, military and cultural), and a sense that our commitment to the rule of law is meaningless if we continue down a path that subverts our national sovereignty.
Despite these conflicting and complex emotions, the prevailing narratives perpetuated by commentators on the left and the right have been condensed into single incendiary, and frankly, obtuse phrases: “Let them stay!” and “Send them home!”
It’s unhelpful that some blundering but isolated voices on the right are calling these children invaders and “illeagles,” suggesting that the best course is to greet the buses transporting these travel-weary minors with protests. Their frustration would be better directed at elected leaders whose responsibility is making meaningful policy and, for God’s sake, enforcing our laws.
But it’s equally unhelpful that some on the left have taken these isolated voices and used them as an excuse to weigh in with reflexive insults and self-righteous disdain.
By now, we all know the 2008 law — aimed at deterring the traffic of sex slaves — under which tens of thousands of now nonlegal residents can stay in the U.S. pending an immigration hearing, was a law of unintended consequences.
As Washington Post columnist Charles Lane writes, “Half a decade later, the Wilberforce Act has mutated into a source of chaos, the victims of which are children, and the greatest beneficiaries, human traffickers.”
It’s evident that this law has been a boon to the coyotes who scavenge Central American towns, promising desperate parents that a better life awaits their children in the United States.
But this law became remarkably easier to exploit after President Obama’s 2012 decision to bypass Congress and order border agents to no longer enforce immigration laws against certain illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.
Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan argues that the president, whose response to the crisis has been inexcusably slow, “let the crisis on the border build to put heat on Republicans and make them pass his idea of good immigration reform.” After all, this migration began building two years ago, increasing significantly after Obama’s announcement.
And while these children are frequently escaping poverty and crime —circumstances that are lamentable but do not qualify them for refugee status — other evidence, including a recent assessment by the El Paso Intelligence Center, confirms “the perception of U.S. immigration laws granting free passes or permisos to UAC (unaccompanied children) and adult females OTMs (other than Mexicans) traveling with minors” is an equally potent force behind the massive migration.
Some immigrant minors have family in the United States, others do not. Regardless, they come to this country, many of them teenagers, absent language skills, proper education, money and friends, things they need to succeed as prospective Americans. Once the well-intended humanitarian aid runs dry, they will again be vulnerable to the very same societal evils — destitution and gangs, but this time in the United States — that drove many of them north.
Like the emotions surrounding the crisis, solutions will be equally complex.
Those calling for compassion are right to do so. Americans can be charitable to those in immediate need without undermining their own principles or the law.
But defining compassion requires thought and emotion. What ultimately is best for these children — and the common good of both the U.S. and the nations from which they are fleeing — may not be the compulsory “Let them stay.”
Without any meaningful attempts at deterring future waves of children (the government estimates 160,000 next year), they will be subjected to a perilous and possibly futile journey that only benefits the unscrupulous coyotes and the drug cartels that would love to see this crisis continue indefinitely.
Cynthia M. Allen is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
©2014 Fort Worth Star-Telegram