Americans were stunned a few weeks ago when news broke that 47,000 unaccompanied immigrant children had been detained at the border since October. Further complicating the situation were reports of the poor conditions in which the children were being held, abuse by border agents, and that some were being deprived of food and medical care. That and images of hundreds of kids sleeping on concrete floors in dirty holding facilities resulted in urgent calls for humanitarian intervention.
It also ignited an unsettling (and harsh) response from anti-immigrant groups.
My colleague wrote eloquently on the rhetoric being used to attack the unaccompanied minors and why it’s wrong. Among her points was that youth are fleeing poverty and violence in their home countries of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, not trying to take advantage of so-called lax immigration policies in the U.S. Some were trying to reunite with parents – one girl recounted trying to join her mother whom she hadn’t seen in eight years. The journey most of these kids took, largely alone, to get here was extremely perilous and expensive. Its risks were too great to be substantiated solely by rumors of an easy life in America.
Much has been said about why these kids are coming in such great numbers, but little has been made of why it turned into a humanitarian crisis. Ironically, the very people and groups that have been so quick to demonize these children are the ones who should be taking the blame for the broken and poorly run immigration system that has turned the situation into a full-blown crisis.
Anti-immigrant groups have spent at least seven years rabidly obstructing attempts to pass immigration reform. A sound immigration bill would have clearly signaled to potential immigrants and those living in this country the policies and procedures for emigrating here. Instead, we have an outdated and deteriorating immigration system that is being propped up by an agency (ICE) riddled with mismanagement and corruption. It’s a system that is ill-equipped to deal with an influx of immigrants seeking refuge. The New York Times’ Editorial Board said it well:
“It’s infuriating to see the long-term reform that would ease the problem — by opening more routes to legal immigration, and restoring mobility to a population trapped on this side of the border — being sent to its doom by the short-term political scheming of Congress’s hard-core anti-immigrant, anti-Obama caucus.”
Furthermore, groups like the Heritage Foundation just last month criticized plans to increase funding to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) (the agency now tasked with dealing with this crisis). So that’s the winning strategy – cripple efforts to overhaul a broken immigration system and then financially starve the agencies that respond to the crisis that ensues. Brilliant.
Among anti-immigrant groups like FAIR and NumbersUSA, Center for Immigration Studies and its director Mark Krikorian have pumped out the most vile rhetoric about unaccompanied minors. Recently, Krikorian suggested that the Obama Administration was collaborating with smugglers because it reunited a ten-year-old girl with her U.S.-resident mother after she and a smuggler were apprehended at the border.
Reuniting young children with their mommies? Oh the horror.
We probably shouldn’t expect compassion from the guy whose response after the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti was: “the reason Haiti’s so screwed up is because it wasn’t colonized long enough.”
Krikorian and his friends at FAIR and NumbersUSA like to say they have a humane approach to immigration but persist in trying to strip Americans of all humanity when it comes to treatment of immigrants. These groups spend millions trying to restrict immigration each year, but have never proposed a single initiative to address the issues facing many of the immigrants who are compelled to come here. That’s the real head-scratcher. If you don’t want immigrants coming to the U.S. and have the means to address poverty and violence plaguing these countries, why wouldn’t you?
Jill Garvey is the executive director at the Center for New Community.
Image source: Mary Anne Enriquez/Creative Commons