Friday, July 18, 2014

We can do more than turn our backs

     Mislabeling a problem too often produces cringe-worthy solutions.

     People were mislabeled as “Japs” after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, justifying the internment camp solution. It is doubtful we would have imprisoned them at all had the internees been referred to as what they were: American citizens.

     Now Central American children coming across our southern border are being mislabeled as illegal immigrants. What they really are is refugees.

     These child refugees are showing up in many different countries as they escape from the violence and chaos of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. Those who make the horrifying journey north across Mexico unhesitatingly turn themselves over to the U.S. Border Patrol. Border agents do what they can to provide aid and comfort. Many other Americans are being less welcoming.

     In Africa, the Middle East, and even the Caribbean, the United States contributes supplies, money and advice, and freely lectures others about the hospitality that should be extended to the approximately 12 million refugees worldwide. When it comes to our own soil, however, we are proving ready to do a lot less.

     The kingdom of Jordan has few natural resources and significant unemployment. Despite the risk to the stability of his own government, King Abdullah II has not closed Jordan’s borders to the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees spilling across it. Palestinians have been refugees in Jordan for decades and now make up nearly half the population. Not all Jordanians are thrilled with this situation. Nonetheless, King Abdullah and his countrymen refuse to abandon either short-term aid or the search for long-term solutions for the refugees.

     The presence of the Central American refugee children calls for America to put up on the same issues. Instead, too many just want to shut up.

     The United States cannot simply open its border to every child in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Surely, however, there is little danger from children equal to less than half a percent of the U.S. population. Surely we can afford to spend $4 billion more on these issues when we don’t even question the $400 billion bill for a fighter plane that may never work. Surely we can be at least as hospitable, at least as brave, as tiny Jordan?

     The solution to this refugee surge is not clear. No one can say how many should stay or what will happen to those who go back. We don’t, however, want to look in the rearview mirror someday and ask ourselves why we did little more than turn our backs.

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