They’re not immigrants. Most of them are refugees. They didn’t come on their own seeking jobs. They were pushed here by circumstance, looking for safe haven.
Many of these children were sexually assaulted or threatened with death by violent youth gangs in their home countries. Once they escaped Honduras, Guatemala or El Salvador, many of them braved a dangerous 1,400-mile trip through Mexico on top of a freight train nicknamed “The Beast.”
When they arrived in the United States — at least 54,000 of them since October 2013 — they were treated like criminals. They were callously warehoused in rooms with no beds, little food or water, their medicines withheld. They were packed into tiny spaces without showers or proper hygiene in what became a breeding ground for disease and continued abuse. Also troubling, neither members of Congress nor the media have been allowed to interview the children. Some of these kids are only 5 or 6, and still they’ve experienced enough pain for a lifetime.
A crisis of this magnitude, which Texas officials claim they warned the Obama administration about as early as 2012, requires that politicians focus on solving problems and not just advancing their interests.
What we saw last week in Dallas didn’t come close. It was a photo op for Texas Gov. Rick Perry and President Obama. Perry got to look important as he likely prepares to run again for president in 2016, and Obama got to look as if he cares about what happens on the border. I’m skeptical of both assertions.
A lame-duck governor with a long shot at the White House, Perry isn’t important politically — not enough to twist the arms of Republicans in Texas’ congressional delegation to support the president’s $3.7 billion supplemental budget request for funding to deal with the border crisis.
Of that $1.8 billion would go to help the Department of Health and Human Services provide more humane care for the children, and $1.6 billion would help the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice unclog the dysfunctional border security apparatus and expedite the kids’ removal. The final $300 million would go to the State Department to help Latin American governments counter the message behind the smuggling cartels’ misinformation campaign that may have sparked the surge: that Congress had passed an amnesty if the young people could get to the United States to claim it.
Meanwhile, Obama seems to either not care about the border or be intimidated by it. During his trip to Texas, he didn’t even bother to swing by the border and check out this disaster for himself. At the very least, he should have met with some of the children whom his administration has locked up. There is anguish on those young faces, and Obama shouldn’t be afraid to see it.
In Dallas, Perry and Obama met twice, but the one-on-one meeting that the governor had requested was limited to just 15 minutes aboard Marine One as the helicopter shuttled the two from Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and Dallas’ Love Field. Then came a longer meeting with other officials.
You can bet the human trafficking cartels who helped cause this mess, and then helped themselves to more than $400 million in revenue for transporting all these kids across the U.S.-Mexico border, invested more effort to cook up their evil plan.
After the meeting with Perry, Obama told reporters he hoped Republicans in Washington could get beyond partisanship and pass the supplemental appropriation. This was right before the president delivered a few partisan jabs at the opposition.
Among other things, Obama argued we wouldn’t be in this situation if Republicans had approved the Senate immigration reform bill, with its call for 20,000 additional Border Patrol agents. This assumes that, with enough boots on the ground, we can turn back uninvited guests. No one who understands the border, and the lengths to which the downtrodden and the desperate will go to cross it, would believe such foolishness.
But then foolishness has become the stock and trade of many of our elected officials, who increasingly are no match for the crises that our country must confront.
Ruben Navarrette is a columnist for The Washington Post.