Is a three-year-old Honduran kid a criminal if he is carried across the Rio Grande in South Texas by a teenager who himself isn't carrying a passport from his native country with an visitor's visa, an I-94 form, attached to it? If not, who is the criminal in the current crisis on the border?
First, is there a real crisis on the border? There is one, but it is not on the entire border with Mexico — it is on the small sector of South Texas where people can wade across the border in contrast to the desert and mountain crossings in California, Arizona, New Mexico and the Texas border west of Laredo. In San Diego, what used to be the busiest entry point for illegal entrants is quiet now; illegal entries are but a trickle of what they were 20 years ago. Illegal entrants were forced into the mountains and deserts east of San Diego. The mountains and desert have killed an average of 400 people a year since.
Thirdly, when interviewed, many of the border rushers say that they came because they heard that if they could just get across the border into the United States, they can stay. This is a false interpretation of President Obama's extraordinary actions regarding immigration in recent years.
They've come and they are here. There are so many of them that the government is using buses and planes to disperse thousands of them for the processing of their paperwork by government employees who are idle because illegal border crossings are down in eight of the nine Border Patrol sectors, all west of Laredo. The problem is that the surprise rush finds the government without facilities to house and take care of these people even during processing and potential return to their countries. Military bases are being used to house people, as are rented warehouses.
One attempt by the government to use a closed college campus in Virginia to house 500 15- to 17-year-old kids drew a huge protesting crowd to a town-hall meeting where it roundly opposed the move despite the town being economically depressed with high unemployment.
Does anyone remember if there were community protests when German and Italian prisoners of war were brought here for the duration of WWII?
While the Obama administration scurries around trying to take care of the kids (and some adults), it has announced a plan to ameliorate the problem, by:
- Sending over $250 million to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador to help "fight" drug cartels, violence and gang activities. That will fail, for the money will simply be stolen by the oligarchs who run those countries; and
- Adding immigration judges, courts and attorneys to handle the rush and to send people back to their countries.
Recall the mistake Obama made in the area when his government supported the leftist president who was legally removed from the presidency of Honduras and tried to illegally retain power. Obama and tyrant 1, democracy and the rule of law 0.
The Hondurans rectified Obama's mistake but have been overwhelmed by criminal gangs and drugs. In El Salvador, the Salvadorans are living proof that some people just can't perform a government’s primary duty of safety for its people. Guatemala has been a black hole of violence and drugs for decades.
The key, then, to solving the problem by slowing the rush and, perhaps, stopping it altogether, is for the United States to spend taxpayer dollars for ads in Central American newspapers, television and radio stating clearly this: Make it to the U.S. and you will be caught and returned. Then we can offer the Mexicans the help to do a better job at the Mexican border with Guatemala and stop the kids from entering Mexico.
Until, however, we have a complete shake-up of the current broken immigration system, the border crisis will continue at some level with individuals sneaking across the border or with thousands of kids coming to America.
A 3-year-old kid cannot violate a law; neither can his 15-year-old brother carrying the little one across the Rio Grande. They are not criminals. What is criminal is a country that cannot provide them with safety, nurture and an education.
Central American oligarchs, their Paris-shopping wives and the corrupt cops who take bribes allowing the kids through Mexico must be held to account, not the kids themselves, for America does not punish children whose crime is only a human desire to survive safely.
Contreras formerly wrote for the New America News Service of The New York Times.