Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Treat innocents on the border humanely

    A refugee crisis on America’s southern borders is giving new reality to the poem on the Statue of Liberty. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” We should respond with more than reactive acts of caring and political acts of finger-pointing.
    Since October, approximately 34,000 unaccompanied children from Central America have appeared on the U.S. side of the border, a 60 percent increase over the total for 2013. When the numbers finally overwhelmed border facilities in Texas two weeks ago, authorities there shipped hundreds by bus to Arizona.
    Agents of Customs and Border Protection are working with great compassion to provide these children, who range in age from preschool to high school, with housing, food, medical care, counseling and comfort. Procedures, resources and information from government, private and nonprofit agencies touched by this crisis are coming together. These efforts reflect the generosity and caring spirit that mark the American character.
    While most children illegally entering the U.S. alone in the past came from Mexico in search of economic opportunity, the very lives of these children are at stake. A report released in March by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees states that 58 percent are eligible for some sort of humanitarian protection under international conventions. A similar study by the Vera Institute of Justice found that about 40 percent were eligible for some form of immigration relief—such as asylum or special immigrant juvenile status.
    This flood of undocumented children is largely the result of Central American governments that are unwilling to clean up their own houses. Honduras, for example, has the highest per capita murder rate in this hemisphere. In addition, criminal networks have discovered they can extract big profits from desperate parents. Securing our southern borders is not simple when children are taken to the line by the smugglers and dumped over into the border patrol’s hands.
    Solutions to the current problem lie largely in Central America. Long term, however, the plight of these children demonstrates yet again the crying need for comprehensive immigration reform.
    Rhetoric around this issue too often turns to hateful epithets, fear mongering and xenophobia. It is time to stop using the innocents huddled on our border as political footballs and find ways to treat them as yearning human beings.

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