Angry White people screaming at busloads of minority children should frighten any American with a knowledge of our own recent history. Voices of fear and bigotry have risen like an oily mess on the tides that have brought waves of young immigrant children across our borders.
The boys and girls are buoyed ashore by a 2008, George W. Bush signed law – the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act – that is supposed to protect them from the rampant dangers of murder and sex trafficking in their home countries. You have likely heard, by now, that the GOP has wrongly hung this on Obama, citing his executive action that delayed deportation of minors that were brought here by their parents, as children, as the reason for the sudden influx. But the law and the president’s order are distinct issues.
That law says we cannot turn them directly around, without detention and a deportation hearing, unless they are citizens of Mexico or Canada. Salvadorans, Hondurans and Guatemalans (as well as the rest of the world) all have the opportunity for due process, allowing them to stay in this country until they have their day in court. In a small number of cases, the administration has said, they will be allowed to stay.
Republicans in Congress have fought against giving President Obama the nearly $4 billion he asked for to help expedite hearing the cases. Instead, they are looking at a much smaller bill, that includes rescinding the human rights exemption in the 2008 law for non-contiguous, near border states, so that the refugee children can be returned to their home countries as if they were refugees from Mexico (or Canada). The Senate bill, which was endorsed by the administration Monday, also cuts the amount of money by about a third, but does nothing to reverse the policy of treating the children like the asylum seekers they are.
Here’s the insidious part, though. The “humanitarian crisis” (perhaps an overly appropriated diagnosis of a plethora of refugee issues) the act was meant to address is now being framed by Republicans as the children risking their lives to cross our borders, and what to do with them once they get here.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin), appearing on NBC’s Meet the Press, Sunday, insisted that the Bush law, which he voted for, must be amended. “Otherwise,” he said, “the humanitarian crisis will continue. Otherwise families far away, on the other side of Mexico, will be giving thousands of dollars to traffickers to take their children over the border.”
While it’s true the children’s journey is very dangerous and, too often, deadly, Congressional Republicans are purposefully taking the very real crisis of rape, torture, murder and slavery which the children are escaping in their own countries, and muddling it with a crisis manufactured by xenophobes and ignorant hayseeds who are easily ginned up by radio personalities pushing an anti-immigrant agenda. In other words, Republicans like Ryan are playing to their base.
House Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi (D-California) says changing the law is something Democrats will not agree to do, and the Senate’s bill bears that out. The act, she said, Friday, “relates not just to Central America, it relates to the American position on refugees and asylum seekers from around the world. Do we want to check out of that and say to other countries, ‘You take them’?”
Amazingly, she is getting some support in this from conservative commentators. Columnist George Will, on Fox News Sunday, said he thinks allowing the children to stay is not only the right thing to do, it is a traditionally American thing to do. “We ought to say to these children, ‘Welcome to America, you’re going to go to school and get a job and become Americans,'” he told the show’s moderator, Chris Wallace. “We have 3,141 counties in this country. That would be 20 per county.”
When warned what he was saying could bring a negative response from Fox News’ regular viewers, Will didn’t flinch. “We can handle this problem, is what I’m saying,” he explained. “We’ve handled what Emma Lazarus famously called ‘the wretched refuse of your teeming shores’ a long time ago and a lot more people than this.”
Even the New York Daily News, which often criticizes Obama’s policies, published an op-ed, Monday, where they call those in Congress who want to change the law to make it easier to deport the children “cruelly wrong.”
Let your Senators and Congressional representative know that there is nothing un-American about creating new Americans. Nothing, in fact, could be more American. You can also let your governor know that you want them to welcome some of these children into your state and your community.
As a child of immigrants myself, who left Europe only a few years after boatloads of Jews fleeing Hitler were turned away by the United States, I believe we have no choice but to maintain the intent of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, and keep letting these children in. This is not only our problem, it is our reason for being, our mission, and one this country, as a nation of immigrants, is uniquely qualified to solve.