President Obama is doing — generally — what his critics demand to respond to the refugee crisis on the U.S.- Mexican border. Some 57,000 undocumented, unaccompanied children and teenagers, most of them from Central America, have crossed the border since last fall, often motivated by a well-founded fear of getting killed at home. Today, many languish in border camps.
But now that the President is proposing a package of measures that includes accelerated deportations and repatriation, Republican lawmakers balk at its $3.7 billion price tag. That should resolve whatever doubt — if any — remains that on the issue of immigration reform, Republicans would rather have a divisive campaign issue than a comprehensive solution.
That doesn’t preclude the need for urgent action. Many of the children who have fled to the United States from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador in recent months sought to escape lethal gang violence largely fueled by drug, sex-trafficking, and labor-exploitation trades set up to meet Americans’ demand.
They often placed themselves in the hands of equally criminal smugglers. Sending them back without proper court hearings, legal representation, and related aid could amount to death sentences on a broad scale.
Mr. Obama is asking for emergency funding for more judges to hold immigration hearings quickly for the affected young people, and to house them in detention centers in the meantime. Responding to critics who demand enhanced “border security” — although the border already is more secure than at any time in the past two decades — the President also wants to spend more on Border Patrol agents and drone flights.
Mr. Obama calls for blanketing Central America with messages warning parents against sending their children north. He said young people “can’t simply show up at the border and automatically assume that they’re going to be absorbed.”
Yet instead of taking the President’s yes for an answer, some Republicans seek to gut a law enacted during the George W. Bush administration that enables undocumented minors from countries other than Mexico or Canada to have immigration judges hear their appeals for asylum or refugee status. They remain in this country until their cases are resolved — a process that can take years — and they can go home safely. Some live with relatives or sponsors here until then.
If any tightening of the law is required, it needs to be accompanied by the measures the President is proposing. He must make that clear to Congress.
Nativists also are blaming the border crisis on Mr. Obama’s executive order that blocked the immediate deportation of so-called dreamers — young undocumented immigrants who have done well in school or the military here, and offer every prospect of becoming exemplary citizens. The earlier action did not cause the recent one; the dreamers were brought to this country illegally by their parents, and the President’s order applies only to those who entered before 2007.
Other critics seek to repeal the North American Free Trade Agreement to punish Mexico for permitting the influx of Central American children — another sure way to destabilize the region.
Lawmakers, including House Republicans, who are truly concerned about securing the nation’s borders would pass the Dream Act. They would enact the broader reform bill passed by the Senate, which includes enhanced enforcement measures to battle illegal immigration as well as work-visa changes and other reforms to promote legal immigration.
Instead, lawmakers blame the President. They demand that he send in the National Guard to get tough with scared children. And in its inaction, Congress aggravates humanitarian crises such as the one now playing out on the border.