American politics and media have lost all ability to define a problem and look for solutions. The surge in illegal border crossings by Central American children provides the perfect example. The emotion laden response to this phenomena makes the issue sound more confusing than it really is. A decision to invest in safe living conditions for the children does not mean America will give up on border security. It does not mean current illegal residents get a free pass to stay. No one is disputing they are coming here legally.
The debate is between people who want to follow a critical law and those who want to bypass it altogether. President George Bush promoted the particular law in question – the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Action Act. The act is named after a 19th Century British abolitionist for good reason. It was our humanitarian response to sex trafficking of children. The 2008 law ensured that children who came to the United States got a full immigration hearing instead of being turned away or sent back.
The hearing has a simple goal. It is used to determine if the immigrant has a valid claim for asylum.
Now this law has become inconvenient for people who want to expedite deportation proceedings for children crossing the border. Calling it a crisis (isn’t human trafficking a crisis?) the House Republicans proposed a bill changing the Wilberforce anti-trafficking law to make it easier to send the child immigrants home. It strips out the children’s rights to have a deportation hearing to determine refugee status.
Ironically President Bush signed the law the GOP now wants to eviscerate. More ironically the Department of Homeland Security Secretary has testified the children are in fact coming here to escape high levels of violence. Secretary Johnson told a Congressional subcommittee that “Conditions in Honduras are horrible”. He noted that the State Department warned U.S. citizens about “critically high” crime and violence there. “[It's] the murder capital of the world.”
The Honduran and Salvadoran child migrants are from some of the most violent regions in those countries. San Pedro Sula in Honduras is the world’s murder capital, with a homicide rate of 187 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2013 driven by a surge in gang and drug trafficking violence. For the entire country Honduras’s murder rate was 90 per 100,000 in 2012, the highest in the world. In 2011, El Salvador was not far behind, at 70, ranking second in terms of homicides in Latin America then.
To put this in context consider that American’s murder rate is 4 per 100,000 people.
Johnson went on to testify that the law doesn’t allow the DHS Customs and Border Protection to summarily return these children to their homeland. Johnson said the law doesn’t allow him to do so. “The law requires that once a child is identified as unaccompanied, CBP has to give them to HHS and they do what’s in the best interest of the child. That is what the law passed by Congress requires.”
In other words, we cannot just overlook the Wilberforce anti-trafficking law.
An immediate deportation policy without the benefit of hearings contradicts other U.S. policies written to extend humanitarian protections. The Temporary Protected Status (TPS) allows qualified individuals from designated countries who are in the United States to stay here for a limited time period. A country may be designated for TPS by the Secretary of Homeland Security based on certain conditions in the country that temporarily prevent the country’s nationals from being able to return safely, or in certain circumstances, the country’s government from being able to handle their return adequately.
When Secretary Johnson identified San Pedro Sula, Honduras as the murder capital of the world it is fair to say the Temporary Protected Status should apply to these children. News and research abounds showing that the Central American drug cartels are offering people an ugly choice: use drugs, carry drugs or die. This is the life some people want to shove children back into.
The U.S. prides itself on following the rule of law. That is a key feature of democracy. It holds itself out as a protector of human rights. That is why we have the Wilberforce law. The U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services department has a process to ensure that immigrants can find safety here to escape violent conditions. T-Visas are issued to give sanctuary here for victims of human trafficking. U-Visas are for victims of domestic violence. Maybe we need D-Visas for victims of drug cartel violence.
Jordan has absorbed over 600,000 Syrian refugees fleeing that country’s civil war, a number that exceeds 10% of its total population. Americans opposed to any compromise on immigration reform are grandstanding on caring for 50,000 children coming into a country of 300 million people. That is less than 2% of our population.
Congress has failed to act on immigration reform. It refuses to acknowledge that people want to come here because we brag about what a great nation we have. It refuses to accept the fact that we have many residents who do not have visas but they support our national economy.
Immigrant children as young as six years old are crossing our borders alone in pursuit of safety. They come from places where drug cartels reign supreme. We have laws and protocols to determine whether they should be allowed to stay. All we have to do is follow them.
It’s really not that complicated.