The Border Crisis
Congress Must Act to Help Children Crossing the Border
By THE EDITORIAL BOARDJULY 12, 2014
There is a reasonable way to confront the influx of Central American children at the southern border, and the White House is getting it mostly right.
It has asked Congress for $3.7 billion in emergency funds to pay for more immigration judges, for legal assistance to children and parents, and to help care for tens of thousands of children in shelters in Texas and elsewhere.
The request seeks more money for the Border Patrol, and for speedier prosecutions and deportations of adults with children, repatriating migrants and addressing causes fueling the exodus in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. And it includes an ad campaign to urge parents there to keep their children at home.
The request would be a good step toward tackling the problem, though it should have included much more for immigration lawyers and humanitarian aid, and less for agents and drones at the border. Congress should swiftly approve it, since it contains pretty much everything that lawmakers — even President Obama’s Republican critics — have been demanding.
But instead of supporting the package, Republicans are throwing up roadblocks. And through dangerous overreaction, some are urging actions that would make the situation worse. They want to make the children’s deportations speedier by amending or repealing the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, a 2008 law signed by President George W. Bush that gave new legal and humanitarian protections to unaccompanied migrant children from countries other than Mexico or Canada.
The law was meant to prevent the deaths of innocents. Removing its protections would compound a tragedy. Mr. Obama needs to make that clear.
Unfortunately, he sent the wrong signal on a visit last week to Texas, where he conflated the emergency appropriations bill — an urgent, immediate task — with a separate request to give the Homeland Security secretary more “flexibility” under the 2008 law. “Part of what we’re looking in the supplemental,” Mr. Obama said, “is some flexibility in terms of being able to preserve the due process rights of individuals who come in, but also to make sure that we’re sending a strong signal that they can’t simply show up at the border and automatically assume that they’re going to be absorbed.”
Beware that word. “Flexibility” and due process don’t go well together. Not with badly understaffed immigration courts, and not in the middle of a refugee disaster, as children flee for their lives from violent gangs.
An article in The Times by Frances Robles on Thursday portrayed the crisis in chilling detail. In El Salvador, murders of children 17 and under were up 77 percent from a year ago. More than 2,200 children from San Pedro Sula, a city in Honduras with the world’s highest homicide rate, arrived in the United States from January through May, far more than from any other city in Central America.
The article described the overnight shift at the San Pedro Sula morgue, where more than 60 corpses, all victims of violence, “were seen piled in a heap, each wrapped in a brown plastic bag.” One was a 15-year-old boy who had been shot 15 times. “At first we saw a lot of kids who were being killed because when the gang came for their parents, they happened to be in the car or at the location with them,” a doctor said. “Now we see kids killing kids. They kill with guns, knives and even grenades.”
Lawmakers who would cut legal corners to send more children back to such peril are showing appalling blindness to a humanitarian tragedy.
But blindness to the unintended consequences is a hallmark of immigration politics. Decades of militarizing the border — without visa reforms to improve the legal immigrant flow — have sealed people out. They have also sealed them in. Immigrants who would have been inclined to work here and go home are induced to stay. They put down roots, and try to bring their families over.
When crossing the border gets more treacherous, the people trying to cross fall into the hands of criminals — smuggling operations that already have lucrative businesses moving drugs and money over the border. Smugglers are profiting mightily from the fear that propels children north and the fear that locks our country down.
Republicans are feeding the cycle, stoking panic about a border under assault, even to the point of demanding that Mr. Obama call out the National Guard. Nativist protesters are blocking buses of migrants in places like Murrieta, Calif. Homegrown militias are issuing calls to arms. Illegal border crossings, meanwhile, are still lower than they have been in years. The besieged border is a myth, and the arrival of a few thousand weary refugee children on buses does not make the myth true.