Border Crisis: Fictions v. Facts (Part 2 of “Children from Central America”)
by Maggie Mahar
Despite extensive media coverage, there is probably much that you don’t know about the history of the border crisis—and what we can or should do in response. Too often the headlines are designed to stir passions, rather than inform.
At the end of next week, Congress will leave for its five-week August Recess. Between now and then legislators will be debating the issues, and no doubt many of your friends will be taking positions.
Here are the facts you need when weighing what you hear–whether on television or at a neighbor’s barbecue.
- Are you aware that since President Obama took office, it has become harder for illegal immigrants to cross our Southwestern border? This is something Fox News doesn’t usually mention.
- Did you know that in many cases, parents in Central America are not “sending” their children here? In over one-third of all cases, at least one parent is already in the U.S. When that parent came he or she didn’t dare risk taking a young child on a harrowing journey that often meant crossing a desert. But now, the horrors are escalating to a point that grandmothers, fathers and uncles are urging kids to flee to the U.S. They know that they can’t protect them, and that the police won’t .Leslie Velez, senior protection officer at the U.N. High Commission for Refugees, reports that gangs are operating “with significant impunity and targeting children at a younger and younger age. Recently there was a very public massacre and dismemberment of children as young as seven who had refused to join the gang. So it was a message to show who is in power, who is in control.”
- Did you know that even if we deport the tens of thousands of children who have come here since last October, many refugee experts agree they’ll try again—and that other children will follow them? In other words, they say, deportation will not serve as a deterrent. These kids are running for their lives.
- Are you aware that in the past the U.S. has backed military coups and paramilitary death squads in Central America? As democratically-elected governments toppled, constitutional order collapsed, and the gangs took over the streets. Does this mean that we are in part responsible for the exodus of kids fleeing violence at home? That is a difficult question, but definitely worth thinking about.
- Did you know that the most powerful gangs originated in Los Angeles? In the 1990s, we began deporting these thugs (via ConAir), and dumped them back in countries ill-equipped to police them.
- Had you heard that the kids coming in today are not trying to avoid border patrols? They are rafting, swimming, and walking into the U.S. in broad daylight. So the problem is not that we don’t have enough border patrols to “secure the border. “ The new immigrants are eager to turn themselves over to border officials. Why? In 2008, former President George W. Bush signed the “William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act.” This bipartisan measure mandates that the border patrols cannot simply send unaccompanied minors from Central America back to their home countries. The U.S. government must try to find responsible relatives in the U. S. and place the children with them (or in foster homes) while they await a hearing before an immigrant court judge.
Understanding this law–and why it passed so easily in 2008—is key to understanding the legal and moral quandary that President Obama and Congress now face.
- Finally, how many Americans are aware that, despite high unemployment rates in the U.S., we face a labor shortage? We need more immigrants willing to pick crops, work construction, and provide long-term care for baby-boomers.
Canada’s population also is aging, and Canada is welcoming them as a part of that country’s embrace of multiculturalism. We are not. Are we missing something?
All in all, this crisis is far more complicated than most reports acknowledge.
Before you decide where you stand on the issue, you might want to consider the media myths vs. the facts below.
On President Obama’s Role
Fiction: President Obama’s lax immigration policies have encouraged children to stream into this country.
Fact: As marauding gangs have taken over cities in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, children have been fleeing, not only to the U.S. , but to Nicaragua, Panama, Mexico, Cost Rica and Belize.
From 2008 to 2013, the UN High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) has documented a 712% increase in the number of Central Americans applying for asylum in those five countries.
Clearly President Obama’s policies on immigration did not drive their decision to seek safe haven in Panama or Costa Rica.
Fiction: Reports of violence in Central America have been greatly overblown. These children are coming to the U.S. in search of jobs, social services and better living conditions.
Fact: Street gangs in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador torture and execute young boys who refuse to join. As I explained in part 1 of this post gang members also pick out young girls who they want to be their “girl-friends”—which means they will be raped by one or more members of the gang. Neither their families nor the police can protect them. This is why they run.
According to the U.S. State Department, Guatemala now has one of the highest violent crime rates in Latin America. El Salvador reports the second-highest murder rate in Latin America, and Honduras ranks #1, world-wide.
There, child murders are up 77% from just a year ago.
Finally, note that Nicaragua, which is the poorest nation in mainland Latin America (and the second poorest in the Western Hemisphere, after Haiti) has seen a 238% increase in asylum applications from Central Americans in the last year. This serves as strong evidence that desperate children and families are not seeking “economic opportunities.”
There are no opportunities in Nicaragua. They are fleeing the mayhem at home.
Fiction:By refusing to deport these illegal immigrants President Obama is breaking the law.
Fact: Quite the opposite. If Obama tried to deport them immediately, he would be ignoring the law. As noted above, a popular bi-partisan bill signed by George W. Bush in 2008 blocks immediate deportation.
Instead, the legislation mandates that border officials hand the unaccompanied children from Central America over to the Dept. of Health and Human Services. HHS is charged with locating relatives in the U.S. who will take the children while they await a hearing before an immigrant court judge. That judge will then decide whether the danger they face back at home qualifies them for refugee status. If it does not, they will be deported.
Republicans are eager to overturn the 2008 law, and in the past, President Obama has indicated that he, too, would like to see Congress rewrite parts of the legislation.
But now Obama is backing away from that idea –in part because so many Congressional Democrats strongly disagree.
Fiction: If we send the kids back now it will “send a message” and stem the tide of illegals.
Fact: “There’s no empirical evidence that this sort of deterrence would immediately stop children from coming — or that it would stop them at all. That’s especially true for children who are fleeing violence, who are coming to the US because they have nowhere else to go,” observes Vox’s Dara Lind, who has done some of the best reporting on this crisis.
Just one example: In July, 15-year-old Karen Laucel and her 16-year-old sister, Sindy, set out from Guatemala, hoping to reconnect with their mother who left their farming village 10 years ago, in search of work in the U.S. Their father stayed behind. The girls have not seen her since, but, they told the L.A. Times, she phoned frequently and sent money.
Then, both their father and their grandfather were murdered. The killings remain unsolved. Police know that it is dangerous to investigate such killings.
Now, Karen and Sindy’s mother knew that they were in danger. She forwarded money to pay a “coyote” (someone who smuggles humans) to take them to the border. She knew she couldn’t trust the child smuggler, but she also knew realized that she couldn’t trust the authorities in Guatemala who did little to investigate the murders of the girls’ father and grandfather.
At that point Sindy memorized her mother’s phone number in North Carolina, and the girls began their 2,0000 mile journey, with a 10-year-old from their village in tow.
In Mexico they were stopped and sent home. (Mexican authorities have been trying to cooperate with the US. Immigration officials.)
“I cried and cried,” said Karen. Sindy told a L.A. Times reporter that she thought perhaps the Mexican border control officers zeroed in on her because she was “’shaking so much.’”
Now, back home, “all she wanted was to take a bath and to sleep. And then, maybe, to try again.”
“‘I don’t want to give up,’” Sindy said.
Given her options, probably she won’t. (If you were a 16-year-old in a country where your father and grandfather had been slaughtered; the police didn’t care; and older boys were circling you, like dogs, what would you do?)
A new International Migration Review study shows that deported immigrants’ desire to reunite with family can often trump the threat of enforcement and lead them to return to the US. As Vox’s Dar Lind observes: “That means that mass deportation will be totally counterproductive: instead of inspiring fewer people to come to the United States, it will force children and families to make the life-threatening journey again.”
Lind quotes, Jacqueline Hagan, one of the co-authors of the study, who “believes that any child or mother who has already decided that the life-threatening journey to the US was worth it the first time is likely not to feel that he or she has any other options.”
When Lind asked Hagan about the theory that deporting children and families now will “send a message” that will deter future families from coming, “She responded in something between amusement and disbelief.”
Vanna Slaughter, director of immigration and legal services for Catholic Charities of Dallas (CCD) agrees: even if they are deported now, these kids, and other like them, will not give up:
“When you’re living in the deplorable, difficult, dangerous circumstances that these people are living in, they’re going to try everything they can to get here, to get out of that. It’s just human nature,” she told Truthout-org. “I am not hopeful that added enforcement is going to make that big of a difference, and I think we’re deluding ourselves.
Fiction: On Obama’s watch, the border has become more and more porous. “Hordes of illegal aliens” are crossing into the U.S.
Fact: It is true that over the past year, more minors have been making their way across the border. But since Obama became president the total number of people crossing the Southwestern border illegally has fallen sharply. As the Economist observes it is “harder to get in than before”:
“A study in 2008 found that a would-be migrant who kept trying was almost certain to succeed eventually, so illegal immigrants [who had made their way to the U.S. and settled here] would regularly go home to see their families, secure in the knowledge that they would be able to return. Now they tend to stay put. Stricter border enforcement thus keeps families apart, and gives migrant parents a powerful incentive to send for their kids.”
Those who want to reform our immigration laws support “guest worker” provisions that would allow parents to come to the U.S. to pick crops–and then return home, for the rest of the year, to be with their children.
According to a UN Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) study published this spring, fully 36 percent of the unaccompanied immigrant children it interviewed had at least one parent in the United States.
Contrary to many news reports, these parents are not “sending” their children to the U.S. The parent already is here, hoping that, under the 2008 Bush-era law, if the child makes it to the border, HHS will re-unite him with his family while he waits for his day in court.
Fiction: President Obama had done nothing to address the root problem at its source—inside these Central American countries.
Fact: An elite unit of the Honduran national police, trained and funded by the United States, has been patrolling the Honduran border in a mission to slow down the flow of migrants. State Department documents reveal that the special tactical units from the Border patrol have been training Honduran border guards since 2012. That year, the teams taught at least five courses, each 13 weeks long, training about 100 Honduran border police officers. This year, they ramped up the training.
The program was funded through a program called the Central America Regional Security Initiative. Since 2008, the State Department has spent more than $642 million through the program in Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama.
But to address the root problem, the U.S. would need to support democratically elected reform governments that would weed out corruption both in the government and in the police.
Until that happens these countries will continue to unravel. And families will do whatever they must to find refuge from the grotesque violence that threatens their children.
Fiction: Republicans have the votes to repeal or rewrite the 2008 law that blocks immediate deportation of unaccompanied minors from Central America.
Fact: Republicans and Democrats have reached a stalemate. Two days ago Republican Sen. John Cornyn told the Associated Press: “Unfortunately, it looks like we’re on a track to do absolutely nothing.” Republican House Leader Boehner is a blow-hard, but Cornyn is being realistic.
Republicans are determined to rewrite the Bush-era legislation, but can’t do it without the Senate–and the president.
AP reports that while “Some Democrats initially were open to such changes most are now strongly opposed.” Presumably as they learn more about the situation in Central America, they are appalled. They also recognize how the US would look, in the eyes of the world–not to mention in the eyes ofLatino, Africa-America voters under 45 in the U.S. — if they put 10-year-old’s back in harm’s way. (As I will report in part 3 of this post, all three groups strongly favor letting the children stay. Even some Republicans are becoming nervous: could the border crisis fire up these voters, brining them out to make their feelings known in the mid-term elections this fall?)
Here is what Democrats in Congress say: “I’m very reluctant to change the law because I think these children face death, murder, vicious abuse, persecution, if they are returned,” declares Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal.
Senate Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois, Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez of New Jersey are standing by the children.
“The United States is about to be tested,” Durbin told the Senate. “We’re about to be tested as how our generation responds to this. I hope we pass that test.” On the other side of the aisle, Republicans vow that unless the law is changed, they won’t provide any of the $3.7 billion that President Obama has asked for to address the crisis.
Friday, Republican lawmakers announced that, at best, they they are willing to appropriate “less than $1 billion” –and then, only if most of the young immigrants are “immediately voluntarily returned to their home country.” Those who won’t leave voluntarily, claiming that they are in danger, “would be given a hearing within a week.”
This is hardly due process.
Today, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s office issued a statement saying that the Republican plan “imposes a sham legal process for unaccompanied children” and raises the likelihood that “children who may be entitled to legal protections are wrongly repatriated to face violence, persecution torture and murder.”
Across the country, lawyers are volunteering to represent these kids “pro bono” (they would not be paid) But immigrations laws are extremely complicated. Pelosi is right: adequate defenses cannot be prepared in such a short time.
No question, Congressional Democrats and Republicans are deadlocked.
As for President Obama, earlier it had seemed that he might be open to some change in the 2008 law, but as noted above, now he is listening to fellow Democrats in the Senate.
Just today, Senior presidential adviser Dan Pfeiffer told a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor that a lack of action on the “spending” [bill] would give Obama “broad permission to take what executive action we can” on the issue. He declined to give details.
History suggests that in the absence of Congressional action on emergency funding , the White House has broad authority.
In the end, I believe that Obama himself will decide this issue.
– See more at: http://www.healthbeatblog.com/2014/07/border-crisis-fictions-v-facts-part-2-of-children-from-central-america/#more-2709
Want to know why the Republican Party is still viable while espousing outrageous positions concerning our citizens and our economy?
Read this long post again.
The Democrats have developed a well earned reputation for backing those who find lost puppies. (Good causes)
Every parent understands that though their children really love their newly found lost puppy, it is the parent who will be responsible for the time, effort and money to care for that lost puppy.
Now the do-gooders are finding foreign lost puppies!
The next time you read about violence and death in our inter cities, just remember that they also occur in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.
Has it not occurred to this writer that violence and death are global in scale? Where would this predilection to solve the world’s problems end?
The writer should travel to those central American countries and campaign for resolutions there!!! I for one will applaud her for that good work.
Should we close all hospitals because curing an illness will not end dying? Of course not! But then, neither should we not help children because it will not cure the problems from which they are fleeing.
If you look at murder rates in these countries you will see that the problems are far, far beyond problems in our inner cities.
Also, in the U.S. we have police who investigate murders.
In these countries the police are either: corrupt or afraid to investigate.
Have you heard of 8-year-American kids walking to Canada to escape
Did you know that we destabilized these countries—helping to overthrow democratically-elected governments and backing military take-overs that
led to more violence–and an end to civil order?
(I will be talking about this in the next installment of the post.)
Finally, both Pew and FOX polls show that the American public is
close to evenly split on whether we should deport or let these
child migrants stay here. Meanwhile, a great many communities are welcoming these kids.
The polls show that people under 45 strongly favor providing asylum for thee kids, as do African-Americans and Latinos. These are the people who will be voting against Republicans—just as they did each time that Obama ran for the White House. The Republicans poll well among older white men. That’s about it.
Also, it is worth noting that we provide safe haven for a much smaller percentage of the world’s refugees than a great many countries that
have fewer resources than we do.
Continuing with your metaphor, the question is not whether we should close all hospitals, rather it is should we increase the number of our hospitals in the name of curing illnesses occurring around the world.
I understand that you are offended that I do not hold myself or the US government responsible for the health and welfare of these young illegal immigrants.
Welcome to the club.
I am offended that honorably discharged US military veterans can not get the timely medical treatment that they need because of inadequate funding to provide medical treatment to veterans. I am offended because after these men and women enlisted or were drafted, they went where they were sent, they served under conditions that other Americans would have found odious, and for one reason or another their health was permanently damaged. And now those who never served a single day in the military, to include DRAFT DODGERS, want to prioritize medical care!
I am offended that unemployed workers can not received unemployment checks after some arbitrary time period. Most of these men and women are unemployed because of reasons beyond their control. Those in power have trashed our economy. The denial of unemployment checks is because of a inadequate funding. This has become a matter of priorities.
Your have your priorities and I have mine. You are not responsible for the problems described above but there they are. WE CAN NOT FUND EVERYTHING!
I encourage you to follow your heart. Go to central America and work with those countries to control violence and death. But please don’t ask the US tax payers to pay for your efforts.
Maggie Mahar wrote “The Republicans poll well among older white men. That’s about it.”
So you don’t believe that we need elections? But when I watch election returns I notice that the Republican party has proved that it is viable.
That in spite of Paul Ryan and the other fans of Ayn Rand and Mitt Romney of the 47% quote. That in spite of the Republican drive to kill Social Security. That in spite of the Republicans who espouse using American military power in too many situations.
Do you never ask yourself why the American people still vote for them?
Do you have so little regard for the American voter that you believe that they have always been duped?
The choice is not between helping veterans and helping children. It never was and never will be.
Jerry Critter wrote “The choice is not between helping veterans and helping children. It never was and never will be.”
Unfortunately, I believe there was always a choice being made when it came to funding veterans benefits adequately.
And that is worse now that the choice to fund involves the US government borrowing more money.
Nothing personal. Have a good day.
“High” Unemployment rates, we do not have. You destroy yourself by creating that fiction.
First of all, funding the VA and caring for these children are not mutually exclusive. (The amount of money involved in caring for the children is tiny-In most cases they have relatives who will house and feed them while they await a trial. Then, lawyers have already offered to represent them pro bono.-This will cost far less than “securing the border” or sending in the National Guard.
See this New York Times Op-Ed.http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/26/opinion/why-the-border-crisis-is-a-myth.html?_r=0 –written by someone who has seen the border crisis up close.
As she points out, a great many communities and religious groups are volunteering to help these children.
Secondly, the VA became under-funded after Republican George Bush took office. In the 1990s, ti was doing quite well–indeed, ti was held up as
a model of health care See the book “The Best Care Anywhere.” I also wrote about the VA in my book, Money-Driven Medicine.
Under Bush, we spent the surplus accumulated during the Clinton years while launching an unwinnable war in Iraq, sending young men and women over there again and again. As their minds and bodies were destroyed, many wound up in VA hospitals. Meanwhile, Vietnam Vets were aging, and the casualties of the Gulf War were still being treated.
AS for unemployment — I agree that it should be extended. But remind me, which party has blocked extensions???
Again, we do not have to turn our back on the world in order to support our unemployed–or our Vets. We merely have to a) stop engaging in senseless wars; b) re-think the Bush-era tax cuts for the rich; and c) invest that money in education, infrastructure and creating jobs.
Each time that Obama was elected, he drew significantly less than 50% of the white vote.
This is the first time that a president has ever been elected with less than half of the white vote.
Minorities, women, and young people elected him.
Many older white voters do not vote for him simply because he was
African-American. Recently, political commentators have begun to admit that racism plays a major role in Republican’s fear of and dislike of Obama.
Can the Republican part survive with Latinos, Afircan-Anmericans, Asians,
single women, and well-educated young people of all races?
No. That demographic is the future. The older white men who have controlled so much for so long are the past. This is why they are so angry.
I recall a 70-year-old powerful white man expelling this to me in 1990.
He explained that over the next 25 years, white men who have run things for so long would get scared. And it said “when people get scared, they turn mean.”
Of course, he was right. You only have to look at Mitch McConnell’s
Thanks to gerrymandering, Republicans will remain viable, for a while, in certain districts of certain states.
But as the Latino population grows, red states will turn blue. (Did you know that today, one in 2 babies born in the US. are Latino?
And when it comes to national elections, if a relatively unknown African -American man could win twice, can an extremely well-known white woman win two years from now–with her extremely popular white husband helping her pull in the votes.?
Look at the polls.
Yes, I think we need elections. I also think we need a two-party system, With one party bent on suicide, that’s hard to pul off.
Perhaps a viable third party will emerge.
The “official” unemployment rate leaves out people who have given up looking for work, and those who are working part-time but really want full-time work.
If we included discouraged workers, as of Janauary the true unemployment rates would be 7.7% –not 6.7%. See the third chart here http://www.businessinsider.in/Unemployment-And-Labor-Force-Participation-Rates-Adjusted-For-Discouraged-Workers-Who-Have-Left-The-Labor-Force/articleshow/29064853.cms
Secondly, perhaps you are 22 and just not very familiar with economic history. But if you look at that chart, going back to 1994, you will see
that even 6.7% is, historically, very high.
Obama was elected by a majority of the voters. It does matter if they were white, black, brown, or orange.
The 2008 bill which was passed to stop trafficking is the poster child for unintentional consequences!
It has lead central American parents to believe that their children can enter the US illegally and they will be allowed to stay. And that is how it has worked out. They will be released to relatives to await a court date and most of them will never appear in court.
These children appear at the border by themselves or with a parent. There is no sign of a trafficker but the child’s mere appearance sets off a chain of expensive reactions.
A Republican administration would quickly get an Attorney General’s opinion that the 2008 law did not apply in these situations and send these children back.
I thought that asylum was granted to those who were persecuted by their own government. Using this interpretation, all the females of Pakistan should be eligible for asylum because of the danger presented to them by the religious leaders. Seeking an education could get a female killed there. Heaven only knows where this interpretation would end.
President Obama has asked the US Congress for $3.5Billiion to be spent dealing with this young illegal immigrant problem.
The Democrats own this problem. Good luck in the coming election.
you wrote that Obama was elected by the majoericans–it does not matter whether they were orange, black or brown.
In principle I agree.
But not in this context (responding to comment on whether the Republican party is viable) the fact that Obama was elected by people who are Not likely to vote for Republicans is very important.
Democrats should not compromise on issues like helping these children because they are afraid of turning off the voters who want to deport those kids. People who carry signs saying “Not Our Children, Not Our Problem”
will Never vote for Democrats who support progressive issues.
Spending time and $$$ trying to appeal to those voters–while compromising over very impt. issues–just doesn’t make sense.
Moreover, Democrats needs to pay attention to which voters support progressives policies.
In the 1990s, Democrats have moved away from their old base (working class people who supported unions, blacks, Latinos, liberal young people) and began to try to woo upper-middle-class
This didn’t work out very well.
Over the past 25 years, upper-middle-class suburbanites have become unceasingly conservative. They support tax cuts for the rich. They support cutting food stamps and welfare for the poor. They are not willing to support public schools in inner cities or poor rural areas.
If Democrats hopes to pass more progressive legislation,create jobs, improve public schools, invest in our infrastructure, reduce the huge gaps in econo
mic opportunities, etc. they need to focus on brining out their base to vote. That means going door to door (as they
did during Obama’s campaigns) and talking to people, offering help getting them to the polls, making sure that they know where and when the election will take place, etc.
Oncer again, you haven’t done your research.
1) The evidence shows that illegal minors do show up on court.
2) Reports from two groups that interviewed roughly 700 of these new child immigrants showed that virtually none of them (or their families) knew
anything about U.S. immigration law.
But since Bush signed the 2008 law (with full Republican support in Congress) they may have noticed that while a great many children continued to be deported, more and more were able to stay–especially if they turned themselves into border officials (rather than trying to “sneak in”)
3) Finally, as to what qualifies a child to be considered a “refugee”. If you read some international law, you will find that refugee status this does not turn on being persecuted by your govt. The danger of being tortured, murdered, or
repeatedly raped, also counts to make a child eligible for asylum–and U.S. courts have been agreeing.
I won’t take the time to provide links giving you the evidence because I very much doubt that you will bother to read them.
But let me suggest that if you spent more time reading–and less time typing– you might be much more persuasive.