We’re in Crazytown

The So-Called Immigration Border Crisis Is Neither

The GOP’s arguments about what caused this situation and what will fix it don’t hold up to the facts. Just pass the damn bill.

John Moore/Getty

We have had an immigration crisis for a long time in the United States. Now we also have a humanitarian crisis. It’s important we understand the distinction—and do something to solve both. Some clarifying facts are in order.

Central American children are fleeing their countries because of violence.

Central America is facing unprecedented gang warfare and violence. These criminal gangs especially target young people; if you don’t join, there are violent consequences. A young boy told the Women’s Refugee Commission, “In El Salvador, there is a wrong—it is being young. It is better to be old.” Young people face terrible threats in migrating, often alone, to the United States or elsewhere—muggings, theft, kidnappings, rape, death—but as The Washington Post reports, “that stuff, and worse, was at home.”

According to Vox, between 2009 and 2012 a civilian was more likely to be killed by violence in Guatemala, Honduras, or El Salvador than killed in Iraq at the height of the insurgency. Data analysis has shown that as the homicide rates go up, so do the number of unaccompanied kids migrating.

Just like children and families fleeing Syria or Iraq or any violence-torn part of the world, children and often their mothers as well as fleeing Central America. There is a humanitarian crisis there that is spilling over across the region, including into the United States.

Central American kids are NOT fleeing their countries because of U.S. immigration policy.

Republicans are largely accusing that when President Obama granted immigration reprieve to so-called Dreamers—young undocumented immigrants already in the United States and brought here when they were children—his actions encouraged other people to immigrate, especially these kids from Central America. This highly partisan accusation falls flat with the facts.

The number of kids escaping Central America began to increase in 2009. There was a lull and then another uptick beginning in 2011. Both periods clearly predate President Obama’s enactment of DACA (Deferred Action for Child Arrivals) in 2012. Under any conception of linear time, there’s simply no possible argument for causality.

Added to this is the fact that Central American kids are trying to come to the United States but they’re also trying to go elsewhere. Mexico, Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Belize are all seeing an increase in Central Americans seeking asylum as well.

Also, if American immigration policy were actually the draw, we would see an increase in kids migrating from all countries, not just Central America. But the number of Mexican children trying to cross the border into the United States has decreased in recent years. It seems reasonable to conclude that U.S. immigration policy is simply not driving this current crisis.

The United States/Mexico border is NOT broken—this crisis actually shows the border is secure.

This one would seem self-evident: The fact that we have a humanitarian crisis of an unprecedented number of unaccompanied children in the custody of United States Border Patrol proves that these kids aren’t “slipping through” our “broken border” but are being stopped and detained.

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Republicans are generally accusing otherwise, using the rise in kids seeking asylum here to gin up their perennial insistence that our border is not sufficiently secure—an excuse they’ve used to derail immigration reform in the past and are using to stall humanitarian aid in this crisis.

One would hope simple logic would prevail. We’re not seeing an uptick of unaccompanied undocumented kids from Central America showing up in Iowa. They’re in dreadfully over-crowded and ill-equipped government facilities, deteriorating conditions that are why this is a humanitarian crisis within our own borders. Over the first 8 1/2 months of fiscal year 2014, 52,193 unaccompanied children have been taken into custody by the Border Patrol. Taken into custody. An increase in apprehensions of unaccompanied children is up 92 percent from last year.

Since these kids are being stopped and detained at our southern border, the appropriate question to conservatives calling for even more “border enforcement” is, what the hell would that mean? Armed drones firing on these kids? Big scary Transformer-like robots with heads ablaze that frighten the kids back across the treacherous desert? When they show up, they’re being detained. The border is secure. Stop pretending otherwise.

Republicans who attack Obama for not “enforcing laws” now don’t want to enforce Central American refugee laws we have on the books.

Conservatives have accused President Obama of “naked lawlessness” in exercising his constitutional discretion in enforcing our nation’s immigration laws. House Republicans have even threatened to sue President Obama—who has deported more undocumented immigrants than his predecessor—for among other things his alleged failure to “faithfully execute the laws of our country.” But it’s Republicans who don’t want to obey the law.

In 2008, President George W. Bush signed into law the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, which said that unaccompanied minors from countries non-contiguous with the United States (i.e., countries other than Mexico and Canada) are afforded greater legal protections. When a kid shows up at the border from Mexico or Canada, for instance, a Border Patrol agent has the legal authority to decide whether that child may be eligible to stay in the country. If not, the child is immediately handed over to officials from her or his home country. But the Wilberforce law—which was passed unanimously by both houses of Congress—liberalized that requirement to say that after being detained at the border, children from non-contiguous countries be turned over to the United States Department of Health and Human Services to receive care and safe housing and then receive legal counsel, and child advocates who can help determine whether they qualify for asylum.

Republicans backed that law, and now they are the ones who don’t want to enforce it but change it. GOP Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho said the administration should “immediately deport” these children and families, which would be an open violation of the 2008 law. Democrats are balking at this idea. Hopefully President Obama will join them.

It’s time to solve our crises, not stand in the way.

Republicans have been blocking legislation that would at least try to solve our nation’s immigration crisis. Now they’re blocking action that would address this humanitarian crisis as well. And that, frankly, is the only link between the two—that the Republican Party is consistently more interested in exploiting and attacking desperate human beings to score political points, rather than actually doing what these crises and our country demands. It’s stunning that a party so responsible for creating military and economic havoc around the globe is so callous toward the human consequences of their policies and that conservatives who so regularly brag about “American exceptionalism” are so gravely hostile to people from around the world who want to come here.

We can’t keep holding out America as a shining beacon for freedom and opportunity around the globe and then suddenly shut the lights off when people show up at our door trusting us to make good on those values. At least half of the Central American child migrants likely qualify for some form of humanitarian legal status, whether asylum or something else. And meanwhile, there are millions of undocumented immigrants already in the United States, not only drawn here by our values but by our economy, which actively needs and recruits undocumented workers.

The so-called “immigration border crisis” is neither about immigration nor the border. There are two separate crises that Republicans (and sloppy liberals) are conflating for political reasons. But the only thing these two crises have in common is that Republican obstructionism is making them worse.

Both parties should be working toward solutions to both of these crises. President Obama is requesting an emergency $3.7 billion allocation from Congress to cover the cost of things like food and shelter for these kids, increased deportation proceedings and overtime for Border Patrol agents. And yes, ultimately passing comprehensive immigration reform will help clarify our nation’s rules for those around the globe—and would solve the existing crisis for those already here, doing vital work in our economy but suffering in the shadows. Meanwhile, for once, instead of hurling attacks and misinformation, it would be great if Republicans would actually pass—or at least allow votes—on these bills. That would be a nice start.