The debate over our nation’s immigration policy has been long, tenuous and tied up over semantics about whether one should be granted rights after engaging in illegal activity and how much our nation itself relies on labor provided by new immigrants. However, the situation at our border in which thousands of young people from Central American countries are now in a virtual no-man’s land has completely changed the debate from philosophy to a growing humanitarian crisis.
The cause of the situation is manifold and while it could be rectified by legislation, it now requires deliberate and thoughtful action. And it requires it now. President Obama has requested $3.7 billion to address the crisis. That money will be used to further secure the border, overtime for Customs and Border Protection and additional facilities, immigration judges and human services assistance. There is a push to identify the people here now as refugees, which would grant them additional protection. The United States has long been known as the place one can go to in times of need and strife at home. Our Statue of Liberty has emblazoned on it the text, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. ...” However, allowing thousands of people into our country is a tremendous burden for our border states, border patrol and human service agencies. Even during our largest influx of immigrants, there was some order and a process. There does not seem to be either right now.
However, this particular situation is different than in the past. First of all, many of these new immigrants are unaccompanied children and some may be trying to escape sex violence and gangs. Whether that should allow them to be granted refugee status, it is not known. However, many in the United States feel it is our obligation to determine what specific threat they may feel at home before sending them back there.
How they were drawn here is a subject of debate. Is it because of threats at home, or the idea that once they arrive here they can stay? The deadlock in Washington over a comprehensive immigration policy is partly to blame as is President Obama’s threat to issue executive orders. In this country, executive orders hold weight, but not nearly as much as in other countries where the head of state has more unlimited power. It is believable that those in Latin American countries could think that an executive order loosening border restrictions and allowing for easier passage here was, in fact, in order.
While how we arrived at this point is useful to consider, it does nothing to placate the urgent situation now being felt in our border states. Obama’s request may not be perfect, but it is the step in the right direction. And the debate in Congress also seems to be going in the right direction.
In addition, there needs to be some action from the State Department and Secretary of State John Kerry should plan a visit to the nations of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala to determine how best our nation can help not only stem the misinformation circulating but also assist in ameliorating the situation that is causing the flight of so many.
But the first cause of action needs to be to secure the border so passage here is no longer possible, allocate sufficient resources to handle the impact of so many now on this side of the border and once again establish order in our immigration system.