The current crisis of over 50K unaccompanied children crossing the U.S. borders have almost fallen from the news radar. Plenty of finger-pointing heated arguments and what becomes automatic polarization of any and all issues is common. Some little progress is taking place through funds allocated to quick deportation. ‘Let’s get rid of the problem’, I mean children, mentality prevails.
Nobody is addressing root causes.
For the returned children and their families, life will likely be worse than before engaging in the dangerous trip to the U.S. Maybe it is not our problem what’s happening in neighboring Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala.
Maybe it is.
We do not want to accept that there is a humanitarian crisis at our borders. It is easier to feel safer by returning these children quickly, building bigger border walls, or, and we should, going after the ‘coyotes’ who smuggle children. It is easy to deny that there is a violence crisis in Central America or to even think that it is touching us.
I ask, why have violence surged in these countries? Drug cartels have existed for years. Nobody dares to look deeply into the answer. It is easy to blame the government or ‘those’ people.
Am I wrong to believe that as Americans we can do better? Let me offer some suggestions:
1) Although nobody has yet studied the long-term effects of the 1994 Assault Weapons laws end in 2004; ask anyone in Mexico or in Central American and he/she will point out to the immediate rise in violence correlated to the laws ending. An obvious, easy and no-cost to taxpayers solution is to re-enact these laws.
2) Illegal drugs traffic bosses and its organized crime structure are outstanding businesses. They understand how to increase demand, distribution and marketing through latest technologies. Can we limit the enabling tools they use?
What about changing the public perception on drug usage from a mentality that ‘using drugs for fun is not bad as long as you are not hooked’ to ‘if you use illegal drugs you are helping murderers’? How would jokes about drug explorations look if tied to the cruel realities of drug trade and its trail of violence? Legalizing marijuana may ease some, but the allure of hard, expensive drugs is likely to continue.
3) In most of these countries $1 USA dollar roughly equals $10 in the local economy. What about taking modest amounts of money and invest in safe schools, entrepreneurial and trade organizations that give these children hope for the future and a safe role in their own destinies?
4) In the meanwhile, could we take these 50,000 students and teach them something? What can we do creatively to equip them with tools that would help them in their life trials? What impression do we want to leave with them other than the richest country in the world protesting to expel them?
5) Finally and probably a more complex issue is to discuss comprehensive immigration reform. The 11M undocumented immigrants in the U.S. contribute to innovation, job creation, tax income, and overall demand for housing and products and services. For example, in 2006 “Texas Comptroller reported that undocumented immigrants provided $17.7 billion in gross state product, including over $424 million more in state revenues than they consumed in state services including education, health care and law enforcement.” An immigration policy that protects current citizens from technical obsolescence, while opening the doors to the creativity and zest of immigrant workers, both skilled and unskilled, would be good for the economy.
Some are afraid that comprehensive immigration reform means opening flood gates to more illegal immigrants. It does not have to. Comprehensive means that border controls and limits to protect national interests are part of the reform.
I am sure there are other solutions. Inaction or denial is no solution.
I am a little worried about the meaning for us as a country if we ignore the plight of children. In the past, we welcomed those escaping violence in Cambodia, Vietnam or the Middle East. These children come from Central America next door, also escaping violence and reprisal.
I am also concerned with the long-term effects polarizing politics is taking in the U.S. society. Our ability to discuss and look for solutions that elevate the human spirit while pushing the limits of efficiency and effectiveness are the hallmark of the American culture. We cannot lose that.
As a parent, I care for the children. I could not bear to imagine my own children in such a predicament. I am also concerned for our own future. How we treat our neighbors children today will help decide whether they would be ‘good or bad’ neighbors in the future.
Am I wrong to believe that we can do better in handling the current 50,000 children? No, I am not. It should be the American way.