Houston Chronicle. June 26, 2014.
Continuing crisis: The solution to the border situation is comprehensive immigration reform.
“The first thing I saw was a boy crying. Terrified and sobbing against the window of the holding cell, he couldn’t have been more than 12 or 13. The room was full of other young boys, their curious eyes peering out at us as we walked by. These were the ones who made the trip alone.” - Gov. Rick Perry
“We are talking about large numbers of children, without their parents, who have arrived at our border hungry, thirsty, exhausted, scared and vulnerable. How we treat the children, in particular, is a reflection of our laws and values.” - Jeh Johnson, Secretary, U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Immediate reactions to the waves of unaccompanied children showing up on our southern border, including Gov. Rick Perry’s poignant description of what he saw this week during a tour of a Border Patrol detention facility, says a lot about who we are as Texans. For many of the governor’s GOP cohorts, the knee-jerk response was to call out the guard, as if an armed military was our first recourse to children so desperate they’ve left their homes and traveled for days across exceedingly dangerous territory to reach what they - and desperate parents who allowed them to leave - expect to be a welcoming promised land.
For state Sen. Dan Patrick, Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, the thousands of children throwing themselves on the mercy of this great country was a welcome opportunity to repeat his odious warning about the children as carriers of disease. The irony is that youngsters from Central America are as likely to be vaccinated against childhood diseases as their American counterparts, since a number of American parents have succumbed to the spurious claim that vaccines don’t prevent diseases, they cause them.
For many other Americans, including many Texans, the arrival of the children offered an opportunity to ease their desperate plight. They’ve shipped blankets, food and clothing to the Rio Grande Valley, knowing that these children - who may be human trafficking victims or legitimate refugees under federal law - still need to be housed, fed and clothed, whatever their immigration status might be. The response of these decent, anonymous Americans is, in fact, “a reflection of our laws and values.”
That being said, the sheer number of children at the border has overwhelmed any orderly process for dealing with them. Since the first of the year, more than 52,000 unaccompanied children have made their way to this country, primarily from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
Many are fleeing gang threats and pervasive violence. Their plight is, in Perry’s words, “a mounting tragedy.”
Johnson’s response to the crisis, as he outlined this week in remarks to the House Committee on Homeland Security, is direct, sensible and humane. He told the committee that he is redirecting both DHS agency personnel and resources from other government agencies; adding processing and housing capacity in Arizona and Texas; building additional detention capacity for adults who cross the border illegally in the Rio Grande Valley with their children; conducting public health screenings; and working with government officials in Guatemala, Honduras and Salvador to address the underlying conditions that seem to be fueling the mass exodus. Johnson also said that DHS and the Justice Department are adding resources to go after the smuggling operations taking advantage of desperate people.
What the DHS secretary laid out is the immediate response. If lawmakers actually are serious about a long-term solution to the border crisis, they should immediately pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation, which has languished in the House since the Senate passed its version last year.
Reforming our immigration laws clears up any misunderstanding about how the American system works. It makes clear that recent arrivals will not be able to stay, unless their lives are deemed to be in danger back home.
The Senate bill also increases resources for court proceedings. Quicker court rulings for those applying for asylum or temporary residence make it less likely that children arriving at our doorstep simply fade into the system. And, of course, reform legislation sets up additional security measures and a legal guest-worker program.
“What’s happening along our southern border is a mounting tragedy, its root cause Washington’s failure, diplomatically and strategically, to address our border security and illegal immigration problem,” Perry said in a statement yesterday.
He’s right about Washington’s failure, but he evades placing blame where it belongs. Until his fellow Republicans in the House accept border reality, the crises will continue.