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“A Matter Of Human Conscience”: The Backlash To The Backlash On Border Children

Perhaps not since that fleeting moment of national unity in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy nearly 13 years ago have so many diverse faith traditions, from Catholic bishops to Quakers, from evangelical Christians to liberal Jews, come together with such genuine fervor on any public issue.

The “backlash to the backlash” on the U.S. border crisis has now begun.

Tens of thousands of unaccompanied children fleeing violence in Central America have recently slipped into the United States seeking refuge in a horrific storm. This many young kids don’t leave home on a long, desperate, parentless journey for no reason. Many are escaping gang brutality, instigated partly by hard-core drug lords, who’ve left U.S. prisons and returned home to stir up more trouble and intimidation.

It’s difficult to imagine what these children anticipated upon entering the United States. Almost no new arrival is ever really prepared for the whirlwind and sheer crassness of American culture.

But they can’t have been expecting the visceral vitriol that greeted some of these young refugees. The boiling-over rage that coarses through so much of our debate on public issues abruptly confronted these frightened children — unsophisticated strangers in a strange land. Anti-immigration activists angrily opposed even establishing shelters for vulnerable kids far from home.

There was an apparent inability to distinguish legitimate public discourse over immigration policy (long ginned up on all sides for political gain) from an actual humanitarian crisis involving children draped under Red Cross blankets, right here, right now. Emma Lazarus’ torch seemed to be temporarily extinguished.

But a different view was expressed last week by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, who got audibly choked up delivering a public announcement that his state would shelter hundreds of children while they’re being processed. A military base on Cape Cod is one venue being considered.

A state homeland security official later said he anticipated the children would be between six- and 17-years-old staying an average of 35 days. Most would likely be released to relatives in the United States, he explained, while others would eventually face deportation.

Said Governor Patrick: “My faith teaches that if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him but rather love him as yourself.” And this was from a publicly secular governor, hardly known for wearing his private beliefs on his sleeve. For Deval Patrick, nearing the end of his eight years in office, it appears to be simply a matter of human conscience. “It bears remembering they’re children and they’re alone.”

Yet his proposal has met with a roar of protest from some quarters — including residents of towns neighboring the base, who attended a meeting of Bourne, Massachusetts local officials this week. One woman, living in Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts, held a banner that read: “Send them back. They broke the law.”

At Patrick’s public statement, he was flanked by Boston-area clergy. The faith community nationwide, which should be the natural habitat for discussion of basic decency and human compassion, is now speaking up with remarkable unity over how the United States should handle the refugee crisis.

Last week, New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan wrote: “I watched with shame as an angry mob in southern California surrounded buses filled with frightened, hungry, homeless immigrants, shaking fists, and shouting for them to “get out!'”

As reported yesterday in The New York Times: “‘We’re talking about whether we’re going to stand at the border and tell children who are fleeing a burning building to go back inside,’ said Rabbi Asher Knight of Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, who said leaders of more than 100 faith organizations in his city had met last week to discuss how to help.”

Believers as diverse as Unitarians and Lutherans are coming together on this moral question. “The anger directed toward vulnerable children is deplorable and disgusting,” said Russell Moore, an official of the Southern Baptist Convention, who this week accompanied fellow churchmen to visit refugee centers in Texas.

“The first thing is to make sure we understand these are not issues, these are persons. These children are made in the image of God, and we ought to respond to them with compassion, not with fear.”

 

By: David Freudberg, The Huffington Post Blog, July 24, 2014

July 25, 2014 Posted by | Faith, Humanitarian Crisis, Refugees | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Who Are We, Anyway?”: A Moral Issue Of How We Choose To Define Ourselves As A Country

Something extraordinary is happening at our southern border. Thousands of children, most unaccompanied by adult relatives, are crossing from Mexico and immediately turning themselves in to the Border Patrol. They come principally from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

What must be going on in those countries that impels their most precious legacy, their children, to make such a journey? What are we, as a nation, going to do about it?

Reports from Central America center on two issues: poverty and gang violence. Poverty in that region is not new, nor has it ever been the stimulus for a mass migration of children. Gang violence has increased, driven in part by the trade in illegal drugs and perhaps by some success in Mexico in confronting drug gangs.

The more important question is what we’re going to do about it? Texas Governor Perry advocates a military response, perhaps by the National Guard. What exactly does he anticipate that the National Guard would do? Are they supposed to shoot at children as they cross a bridge or a river? Doesn’t sound right to me.

The Administration’s response to the problem is financial and legal. Appropriate 3.7 billion dollars to house these children until their cases can be heard by a (hopefully more efficient) adjudication process to determine whether each child is legitimately a refugee. But there aren’t lawyers to represent most of these children, so the legal process is likely to be a farce.

Some in Congress want to change the applicable laws to make it easier to expel these children without a legal process. I suppose such a course might relieve the government of some costs, but does such a policy square with our values?

The arrival of large numbers of children on our doorstep is not a physical menace to us. Nor is it an unsustainable financial burden. It is not a legal or bureaucratic matter either. Instead, it is a moral issue of how we choose to define ourselves as a country.

We need to move these children out of mass holding pens and into homes of people who will care for them and raise them. Then we can let the legal process grind away.

 

By: Joseph B. Kadane, Leonard J. Savage University Professor of Statistics and Social Sciences, Emeritus, at Carnegie Mellon University; The Huffington Post Blog, July 17, 2014

July 18, 2014 Posted by | Border Crisis, Immigration Reform, Poverty | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Legitimate Refugees Should Not Be Deported”: The Children Deserve Their Deportation Hearings

The politics surrounding the surge of migrant children at our Southern border are predictable: Republicans blast President Obama; Obama asks Congress for more money to deal with the problem; immigration advocates insist on fewer deportations.

But in the middle of that clichéd drama are gut-wrenching stories about children — including some who are quite young — undertaking a dangerous, lonely journey either alone or in the company of unreliable strangers. It’s hard to fathom.

How awful must conditions be at home for impoverished parents to pay $6,000 for criminal smugglers to take a seven- or eight-year-old child hundreds of miles away? How desperate must a young child be to get on the road alone to try to find Mom and Dad in another country?

News accounts tell those pitiful stories. Ten-year-old Angel and his 7-year-old sister, Dulce, longed to join their parents in the Los Angeles area. They traveled by bus with relatives from Chimaltenango, Guatemala, to the Rio Grande, but their adult kin left them to cross the river with other youngsters.

A 14-year-old boy from Honduras said that his parents were dead and he was hoping to find an aunt in New Orleans. Then there was 11-year-old Nodwin, who said he left Honduras by himself — nearly drowning in the Rio Grande — to get away from criminal gangs, which enforce their rule through torture and rape.

The United States, which thinks of itself as exceptional and indispensable, has an obligation to do what it can to help these children, whose plight has rightly been termed a humanitarian crisis. We can do better than immediate deportations.

In fact, a law intended to curb human trafficking that was passed during the administration of George W. Bush mandates that those children be given deportation hearings to consider their requests for refugee status. Meanwhile, they must be given food, shelter and reasonable accommodations. (Under the same law, unaccompanied minors from contiguous countries, Canada and Mexico, are immediately turned back if they are caught.)

The law may well have contributed to the stunning surge of children — some of them as young as kindergarteners — trying to enter the country illegally. More than 50,000 children have tried to enter the U.S. in the last eight months, officials say. In Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, the three countries that account for most of the refugees, the law has apparently been misinterpreted by parents and children as a policy of broad leniency toward undocumented minors.

In addition to that misunderstanding, kids are propelled by poverty and violence. Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world; Guatemala, the fifth highest. Who could blame them for trying to escape that?

But the crush of refugees has created a political embarrassment for President Obama. In a futile effort to garner GOP support for comprehensive immigration reform, the president has pursued a tough deportation policy toward adults, ensnaring not just felons, but also some undocumented workers who committed minor traffic offenses. The policy hasn’t won over GOP critics, but it has alienated some of Obama’s Latino supporters.

With midterm elections approaching, Republicans are using the refugee crisis as a sledgehammer, insisting the president has broken the law. Sarah Palin has gone so far as to call for Obama’s impeachment. None of the president’s critics acknowledge that he is following a law that several of them supported just a few years ago.

Under the searing pressure, Obama has called for billions to pay for more guards, drones and detention facilities; he has also suggested that he would support a change in the law that would quicken the deportation of unaccompanied minors.

That’s a mistake. The United States cannot solve Central America’s problems of poverty and violence, nor can it take tens of thousands of undocumented children. But it can take those who would qualify for legitimate refugee status.

The children deserve their deportation hearings, and the president should stand steadfast to make sure they get them.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker, The National Memo, July 12, 2014

July 15, 2014 Posted by | Border Crisis, Deportation, Immigration Reform | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An Abundance Of Rhetoric, A Dearth Of Solutions”: After A Prolonged Lack Of Use, GOP Policymaking Muscle Has Atrophied

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chairman of the House Homeland Security committee, argued yesterday that “some” of the unattended minors from Central America he saw “looked more like a threat to coming into the United States.” How could he tell? McCaul didn’t say.

Soon after, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) argued in support of sending the National Guard to the border. Asked what good Guard troops could under the circumstances, Perry couldn’t say. (In fact, he seemed confused by the question.)

A variety of congressional Republicans have now balked at President Obama’s appeal for emergency resource, insisting the package costs “too much.” What’s the GOP’s alternative response? What’s the proper amount of spending? They wouldn’t say.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, is among many far-right lawmakers condemning the White House for not deporting Dream Act kids. Why are Republicans focusing so heavily on a policy unrelated to the humanitarian crisis at the border? They haven’t said.

To be sure, this is an incredibly difficult crisis to resolve. Anyone who suggests there’s an easy, quick fix to this is kidding themselves. But as is too often the case, congressional Republicans – folks who were elected to help shape federal law – appear to be sitting out the substantive debate altogether. GOP lawmakers have decided what’s really needed right now is incessant complaining – and little else. Danny Vinik added:

If Republicans object to this request, what exactly do they propose instead? How should we move through the huge backload of cases? Where should we hold the unaccompanied minors in the meantime? And how should we pay to transport them to their home countries?

It’s not that Republicans have poor responses to these questions; it’s that they’re not even trying to answer them.

The post-policy GOP knows what it doesn’t like – the president and his policies – but seems to have forgotten that a governing party, or at least a party that maintains the pretense that governing matters, cannot simply boo from the sidelines.

In some cases, they’re hardly making any effort at all. For example, Goodlatte late last week published an item for Breitbart, with some specific recommendations.

Send the strong, public message that those who enter illegally will be returned. President Obama needs to use his bully-pulpit to send the clear message that those who are seeking to enter the U.S. illegally will be returned to their home countries and that subjecting children to the perilous trek northward to our southern border will no longer be tolerated.

This sounds like sensible advice, right up until one realizes that the president has already done this, and asked for resources from Congress for an advertising campaign in countries like Honduras and El Salvador to reach an even larger Central American audience. Putting aside the question of why the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee is writing pieces for Breitbart, why doesn’t Goodlatte know that Obama’s already done what he’s asking the president to do?

It’s easy to get the impression that congressional Republicans’ policymaking muscle has atrophied after a prolonged lack of use. GOP lawmakers have failed to work on public policy for so long, doing so little substantive work in recent memory, that they seem wholly unprepared to act with any sense of purpose now.

Their complain-first instinct obviously remains intact, but a challenge this complex will need more than whining politicians. There’s real work to be done – the sooner the better – and it’s well past time for congressional Republicans to pick up their game. They’re outraged by the crisis at the border? Good. Now they can get to work doing something about it.

 

By; Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 14, 2014

July 14, 2014 Posted by | Border Crisis, GOP, Homeland Security | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Bordering On Heartless”: Protecting Ourselves From The Youngest Of Refugees

Glenn Beck says he has come under fierce attack from some of his fellow conservatives for a grave transgression.

His crime? He announced plans to bring food, water, teddy bears and soccer balls to at least some of the tens of thousands of Central American children who have crossed the border into the United States.

“Through no fault of their own, they are caught in political crossfire,” Beck said. “Anyone, left or right, seeking political gain at the expense of these desperate, vulnerable, poor and suffering people are reprehensible.”

Beck, not averse to a certain grandiosity, let us know that “I’ve never taken a position more deadly to my career than this.” But assume he’s right — and he may well be. It’s one more sign of how the crisis at our border has brought out the very worst in our political system and a degree of plain nastiness that we should not be proud of as a nation.

Let’s stipulate: This is a difficult problem. Unless the United States is willing to open its borders to all comers — a goal of only the purest libertarians and a very few liberals — we will face agonizing choices about whom to let in and whom to turn away.

Moreover, it’s clearly true, as The Post editorialized, that “there is nothing humanitarian in tacitly encouraging tens of thousands of children to risk their lives, often at the hands of cutthroat smugglers, to enter this country illegally.”

But instead of dealing with this problem in a thoughtful way reflecting shared responsibility across party lines, President Obama’s critics quickly turned to the business of — if I may quote Beck — seeking political gain. Last week, the only issue that seemed to matter was whether Obama visited the border.

It’s not just partisan politics, either. It should bother religious people that politicians pay a lot of attention when conservative church leaders speak out against contraception and gay rights but hardly any when religious voices suggest that these children deserve empathy and care.

There are those in our clergy who could usefully consider whether they speak a lot louder when they’re talking about sexuality than when they’re preaching about love. Nonetheless, many religious leaders are condemning callousness toward these kids.

“The church cannot be silent,” the Rev. Gabriel Salguero, president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, wrote in Time magazine, “as angry groups of people stoking the flames of fear yell at buses filled with helpless immigrant children and women.”

And Sister Mary Ann Walsh, the media director for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, called for “a moral conscience moment” akin to the response during the civil rights era “in the welcoming of children and others escaping the violence in such countries as Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.”

It is said, and it’s true, that the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act that swept through Congress and was signed by President George W. Bush in December 2008 has had the unintended consequence of encouraging the Central American children to head north. To protect victims of sex trafficking, the law guaranteed an immigration hearing to unaccompanied minors, except for those from Canada and Mexico.

As the bill was making its way through Congress, members of both parties could not stop congratulating themselves for their compassion. The bill, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) said, arose from “exemplary bipartisan cooperation” and showed how big-hearted we are.

“Together, let us end the nightmare of human trafficking,” he declared, “and lead the world to see, in the poignant words of Alexis de Tocqueville, that America is great because America is good.”

Suddenly, we are far less interested in being “good” than in protecting our borders — even if those we are tring to “protect” ourselves from are the youngest of refugees.

All the pressure now is to change the Wilberforce Act so it would no longer apply to Central American children. There’s a strong logic to this. The law does create a powerful incentive for unaccompanied minors from Central America (which is not that much farther away than Mexico) to seek entry, en masse, to our country.

But there is another logic: that the anti-trafficking law really did embody a “good” instinct by holding that we should, as much as we can, treat immigrant children with special concern. Do we rush to repeal that commitment the moment it becomes inconvenient? Or should we first seek other ways to solve the problem? Yes, policymakers should be mindful of unintended consequences. But all of us should ponder the cost of politically convenient indifference.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, July 13, 2014

 

July 14, 2014 Posted by | Border Crisis, Immigration Reform | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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