As thousands of unaccompanied Central American children stream across his state’s southern border, Texas Gov. Rick Perry took a paranoid turn.
In an interview Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” Perry repeated sentiments that he expressed earlier on Fox News that, as the number of detained children has surged past 60,000 in recent months, President Barack Obama might be “in on this somehow.”
“I have to believe,” he said, “that when you don’t respond in any way that you are either inept or you have some ulterior motive.”
Oh? And what might that motive be? The governor did not say. But his speculations follow a familiar partisan smear in this midterm election year that Obama “breaks laws” and “can’t be trusted.”
It’s a narrative that fuels House Speaker John Boehner’s announced plans to sue Obama for alleged failures to “faithfully execute the laws” of the Constitution, even though Boehner has been remarkably nonspecific about what laws Obama has failed to faithfully execute.
On the other side of the debate, Obama has boosted border security and deported so many undocumented immigrants (a record-breaking 409,849 in 2012) that the National Council of La Raza, a leading Hispanic rights organization, has branded him “deporter-in-chief.” No, that was not a compliment.
In that vein, the current border crisis of unaccompanied children and others mushroomed precisely because the Obama administration has been enforcing laws left in place by his predecessor.
Although sad stories of unaccompanied child migrants are not new, the Department of Homeland Security reports that the current surge has been building since 2011 when border agents nabbed 4,059 unaccompanied youths. That number jumped to more than 21,000 juveniles last year and is projected to top 100,000 this year at its current pace.
Yet Obama hardly has been celebrating. A full week before Perry’s remarks on ABC the White House announced plans to seek more than $2 billion from Congress to do what critics like Perry say they want the government to do: expand detentions facilities, appoint more immigration judges and speed up the processing of undocumented children and others from Central America.
But how speedy? One’s heart goes out to the children, in particular, who are fleeing persecution, kidnappings, sex trafficking and other violence so severe that families are willing to risk sending them on the long dangerous journey from Central America.
The United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees estimates that almost 60 percent are fleeing conditions that warrant protection under UN conventions.
As Wendy Young, president of Kids in Need of Defense, which provides legal representation to unaccompanied immigrant children, recalls one desperate mother’s explanation, “I would rather see my child die on the way to the United States than die on my doorstep.”
Yet not every person from a high-crime country deserves asylum in the U.S., which, it goes without saying, also has a disastrous number of children growing up in high-violence communities of our own.
Not many people noticed when President George W. Bush signed the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act during the presidential transition in late 2008.
Named for a 19th-century British abolitionist, the law prevents the government from returning children from countries that don’t border the United States without offering a deportation hearing process, which can take months or years. Minors from Mexico and Canada, by contrast, can be sent back across the border more easily.
That law is just one small part of what American immigration law and refugee policy requires: comprehensive immigration reform. That means a full package of improvements, including the stronger border security demanded by conservatives and a pathway to citizenship or, at least, legalization promoted by liberals. Compromise is possible, although so far only in the Senate. Maybe next year.
In the meantime, Congress needs to fund improvements to speed up the process of distinguishing true refugees from other undocumented arrivals. The administration is broadcasting public service announcements in Central America to counter the propaganda of human smugglers.
But the most powerful message is delivered by those who, after making their way unlawfully across our borders, find themselves sent right back to their home country. Not everyone deserves to stay, but every case deserves due process.
Email Clarence Page at firstname.lastname@example.org.