SAN DIEGO — Before it’s too late, Americans need to turn their attention back to the children.
The lost children of Central America have themselves gotten lost in the fog of debate over what should become of them. Americans started off talking about the kids, but quickly meandered into distracting conversations about politics, blame, history, ideology and government funding. President Barack Obama has requested $3.7 billion to handle the crisis.
A right-wing radio host pushing an agenda asked me if it wasn’t relevant that many of these kids are coming from “failed, left-wing socialist countries.” No, I said, not really. After all, I noted, Nicaragua is perhaps the most left-wing country in Central America, and it’s not sending anyone north.
Predictably, the border kids have been dragged into the immigration debate. That is maddening. These kids are not immigrants. It’s not like they came here to take paper routes that American kids wouldn’t take. These kids are refugees who came here for safe haven because they thought Americans would offer it.
Also, unfortunately for the 57,000 unaccompanied minors who have come across the U.S.-Mexico border since last October – after many were targeted by violent criminal gangs – this discussion is happening during an election year, when elected officials tend to not have the bandwidth to think of anything but keeping their jobs.
As we know, cowardice is a bipartisan affliction.
Members of Congress from both parties want to avoid being hurt politically by this crisis, and therefore many are chomping at the bit to accommodate Obama’s request for more executive power to quickly remove our uninvited visitors by denying them due process. Even for those who agree that some of these children will need to be sent home – and I’m one of them – it’s ghastly how fast the process is moving. Can Obama administration officials at least pretend that they understand the stakes involved, and that we’re getting ready to hand death sentences to 10-year-olds?
This in a country where lawmakers pass legislation to protect kids from head-on collisions and sugary drinks, where we might convene a congressional subcommittee to investigate the dangers of peanut butter. How did we get so far off track?
Quietly, the purge has already begun. Fearing the blowback that comes from being perceived as soft on illegal immigration, Obama dickered for five years over whether he had the legal authority to stop deportations. Yet, this week, he wasted no time in deporting the first batch of child refugees back to Honduras. According to a statement from the Department of Homeland Security, approximately 40 adults and children who had been held at a facility in New Mexico were returned by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to the Honduran government. More deportations to Honduras – the per-capita murder capital of the world – are expected soon. Guatemala and El Salvador, get ready.
Is this how a great nation deals with what Obama, just six weeks ago, called an “urgent humanitarian situation”?
A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll found that 58 percent of Americans disapprove of Obama’s handling of the border crisis, and 66 percent give failing marks to Republicans. Among Latinos, 54 percent disapprove of Obama’s handling of the crisis.
How humane is it for one of the wealthiest and most powerful countries in the world to send frightened children, who have escaped threats of sexual assault and even death, back to what could be their demise? It should give us pause that we are being so cavalier about the idea of returning kids to dark places that any of us would try to escape as many times as necessary.
You heard that right.
This act of repatriating young people may be dramatic, but it’s also futile. We’ve created a revolving door at the border, where those who we remove will soon return. It would help for folks in Washington, both at the White House and in Congress, to get this simple fact through their heads. Republicans insist that Obama caused the crisis by giving deferred action to undocumented youth, while Obama counters that Republicans caused it by not passing immigration reform.
I hate to break this to our leaders, but the terrified won’t take their cues from what U.S. politicians do, or don’t do, about this crisis. Our elected officials look out for their own interests. Why shouldn’t we expect people in other countries to do the same?
Ruben Navarrette is a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.