In recent weeks, attention has turned to the ongoing border crisis of the large number of unaccompanied minors crossing the border into the United States from various
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
-Emma Lazarus, Inscription on the Statue of Liberty
This issue is being framed mostly in light of the ongoing struggle over immigration reform. Which isn't such a bad move. After all, as Republicans come out with more and more insane and crazy rhetoric spurred by the border crisis, it stands to continue to hurt them politically with the minority vote.
However, for the longest time, this narrative has not quite jibed with me, and I'm beginning to realize where the dissonance lies.
The border crisis is not an immigration issue. It's a humanitarian one.
International refugee law defines a refugee as someone who seeks refuge in a foreign country because of war and violence, or out of fear of persecution. The United States recognizes persecution "on account of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group" as grounds for seeking asylumAccording to the Refugee Act of 1980, the President of the United States has the power to allocate greater resources to accept and protect refugees in cases of emergency. I would argue the border crisis fits such criteria. I think moving forward, the onus should be on President Obama, and all the rest of our elected officials, to treat these children as refugees, and to respond to the border crisis as the corresponding humanitarian crisis.
We should never forget that these children are especially vulnerable victims; to treat them in any way that involves deporting them back to the horrific conditions which they were fortunate enough to flee, is a betrayal of core Democratic, and I would even go so far as to say American, principles of compassion for our fellow human beings, and an embrace of any and all who seek an American way of life.
By continuing to frame the border crisis as an issue of immigration, it draws inappropriate focus to the border and the legal status of these children, when the focus should ultimately be on how we go about helping these children back to tolerable living conditions.
“The act of seeking asylum in the face of violence is not new, nor is it specific to just the United States, Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ) said. “To see politicians oversimplifying this desperate plea for help as an immigration enforcement issue is concerning, and to see their willingness to weaken the protections of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act is even more so.Among their recommendations, the CPC calls for allocating more funds to providing these children access to medical and legal aid, stronger investigative abilities of allegations of abuse while in custody, and establishing more oversight on how foreign aid sent to these countries is contributing to corruption and exacerbating the problems.
“We must place the well being of these kids first. We should allow the protections in our existing laws to play their intended role. We should reassess the aid we send to nations with corrupt police and military forces to ensure we are part of the solution, not the problem,” Rep. Grijalva continued. “Most of all, we must realize that increased enforcement on our border is a solution in need of a problem, and proponents of militarization are using the plight of these kids to achieve their political agenda.”
“Thousands of children seeking refuge in our country are at risk, and this proposal puts their needs ahead of politics,” Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) said. “The solutions to this crisis must put the safety of the kids first and respect their right to due process under our nation’s laws.”
These children are refugees and should be treated as such. Though they are not the victims of any specific war, the atrocities and indiscriminate violence to which they have been subjected are just as real and plain to see as the War on Terror that Republicans have no qualms coining and combatting.
With the Refugee Act of 1980, the United States enshrined its commitment to the protection of refugees, and should be praised for it. It is time for Obama, the Democratic Party, and the country as a whole, to stand by its commitment to this value, and to its heritage as a nation founded by immigrants. After all, it is only in times of great crisis where laws like the Refugee Act truly prove their worth.
From a political standpoint, there is the argument that such amnesty-related policies could actually backfire for Democrats in the upcoming elections. Polling shows that the border crisis may lose immigration reform its support, and this could lead to motivating the, shall we say, less diverse and sympathetic voters of the conservative base out to the polls.
While I think this is definitely worth taking into consideration moving forward, I do not think this is such an impediment that the border crisis cannot be reframed in a humanitarian light that actually strengthens Democratic support, with the added benefit of providing more ammo to draw out Republican stupidity on the issue (has anyone pointed out to Perry that the Senate immigration reform bill that Boehner is refusing to bring to a vote actually includes allowing Obama to send the National Guard to the border).
While we should not leave conditions in a way that continues to encourage children to make this dangerous journey, we should also stand up and demand the strong response this serious issue requires, while also committing to treating these children as humanely as possible. I think the point should definitely be made that addressing the issue more as a humanitarian one, such as how the Progressive Caucus addresses it, rather than an immigration one, such as how the current bill being debated in Congress addresses it, is much more likely to address the root causes that have led to this crisis in the first place.
In a better world, I envision that these children really would gain many of the opportunities they hoped for when they began their dengerous journeys, that they feel is worth all the hardship, the sacrifices, and the perils. While we would not invite them with open arms and reward them for taking dangerous and illegal avenues, we would still treat them compassionately and use our resources to ensure they are able to live peacefully.
I envision these children contributing to and growing our economy, our society, our culture. And after they grow up and build their educations and develop relationships, they can return to their home countries and contribute there, too.
That this vision is more closely reflected by replacing more Republican politicians with Democrats, and that we can do something about that in November, should not be lost on others who feel as I do.