Make the Border Kids Americans
By HUGH HEWITT
July 17, 2014
Approximately 90,000 minors have entered the country in the two years since President Obama, whether out of the best of intentions, cynical political calculation or as another of his serial expressions of incompetence, allowed the idea to take hold abroad that kids who were brought to the country would be allowed to stay. Numbers are swelling rapidly and detention centers are bursting at the seams. Among them are thousands of unaccompanied Central American children—approximately 52,000 since October, according to federal records.
Now, the United States has, in effect, a refugee crisis unlike any it has faced since the Mariel boat-lift exodus from Cuba in 1980, or the mass Vietnamese flight from the communists in the years following the fall of Saigon.
I have long argued on my radio show that the immigration crisis will continue until a long, strong, double-sided fence extends over every passable mile of the 2,000 that make up the U.S.-Mexican border, but I am not arguing for that now. Right now the country ought to act to end the humanitarian crisis of tens of thousands of what are, in effect, orphans and strangers in our land. The very young among them should find “forever families” right here, right now. They should become Americans. The process is not hard to imagine in broad outline or to implement quickly.
First, if a child under 13 can identify a parent, the child should be re-united with the parent immediately. Disposition of the parent’s status—in all likelihood permanent residence without citizenship if they have been here for years—can await the comprehensive immigration reform bill that will pass either after President Obama leaves office in January 2017, or if a strong Republican majority emerges from the midterms, perhaps next year, provided the bill does genuinely deliver the long, strong double-sided fence (almost certainly a minimum 1,000 miles in length) and the increased border security personnel to patrol it.
If children under 13 cannot identify a parent, they ought to be relocated to a new, centralized, humane federal facility exclusively for young unaccompanied minors, almost certainly at the United States Marine Corps’ Camp Pendleton in California, which handled a vast influx of 50,000 Vietnamese refugees for resettlement in 1975. Many Marines and residents of Orange and San Diego County have memories of organizing and administering that difficult task. It can be done again, and perhaps even more quickly if the Congress will step forward and authorize the churches of America to do what they are built to do: Shelter the orphan. The web would allow an application to be filed quickly, the adoption accomplished expeditiously. But to whom?
If Congress were to authorize adoption by any couple who were (1) certified by a church of (2) at least 250 members and at least five years of existence as a couple of character and standing within the congregation and (3) were under the age of 60, (4) had at least one member of the couple with a full time job of at least five year’s duration and (5) had raised or were presently raising at least one child who had achieved any normal set of measurements, the crisis over the effectively orphaned children would be over within months. Americans from all over the country would step up to care for these children, to give them new “forever families,” a term the Heritage Foundation’s Sarah Torre introduced to me, which captures the goal we should have for these youngest border crossers.
This approach will require Democrats to recognize what a few of them may be loath to do: America’s churches are indeed populated by people who feel a Gospel call to love and care for “the least of these.” It will also require a cease-fire agreement in the war over the specifics of any future regularization bill fought primarily on the right over “a path to citizenship” and a refusal on the left to use the crisis to leverage it for more. It will require, in short, that America collectively put the interests of these children first.
A Pendleton base of operations will instantly attract the support and contributions of goods and services from the amazing network of churches in Southern California, just as it did in 1975. Pastor Rick Warrren and Orange County Bishop Kevin Vann need only summon their thousands of colleagues to a meeting and the short-term needs of these children will be met by volunteers bearing toys, food, clothing and English lessons, as well as adult supervision of the best sort. (Pendelton borders Orange County on its north, home to both Warren and Vann. Their San Diego counterparts would no doubt also throw all in.) It would be a giant Vacation Bible School without the Bibles, but it would work.
Likewise, if officials put in charge of assigning adoptees to applicant parents are caring, non-ideological officials, perhaps jointly credentialed by a body jointly selected by House Speaker John Boehner and President Obama, the adoption process will proceed quickly and with little fuss. Children will end up dispersed all across the country. The lucky ones will be in Northeast Ohio where they can become LeBron fans instantly. The less lucky ones will be sent north to Minnesota where the sun doesn’t shine but the Lutherans are welcoming and the State Fair fabulous.
Overnight they will be on the road to being Americans.
Most of those over 13 and under 17 could pass a similar system, though a more rigorous review of their circumstances and personality will have to occur. The reports of recruitment of some of the border crossers by organized crime cartels are concerning of course, which is why screening of older potential adoptees will have to be more rigorous.
Those 17 and 18 should be offered a choice: English school followed by the military for four years or a ticket home.
The humanitarian crisis must be met. It can be met. The policy that precipitated the crisis must be dealt with, and I still believe the beginning of construction of a long, strong, high fence as the visible expression of an invisible resolve to control our border would accomplish that messaging overnight, but neither it nor anything else ought to stop us from caring now for the children in these federal warehouses. A new “Children’s Crusade” is occurring, and one that could be as calamitous as that of 1212 seemed to be.
If allowed, however, the people of faith in America will step up to care for and raise these children as Americans. Congress should act expeditiously to allow them to do so, whether or not they can otherwise agree that the sky is blue.