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Editorial: Walking the tightrope of unaccompanied immigration

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | JULY 17, 2014 5:00 AM

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Since last fall, more than 52,000 immigrant children have been taken into custody, with many of them coming from Central America. This doubles last year’s total and has many Americans wondering what is causing the influx, especially because many of the recent children immigrants were not accompanied by adults. It’s a messy situation, and picking a definite side, it seems, forces you into claiming one of two flaws: You’re either empathetic and for breaking the law or legally correct and cold at heart. 

An NPR report explains that the primary cause of the spike in illegal immigration is the gang-related violence that continues to devastate regions of Central America. This is especially true for Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, whose children have fled to escape the surging violence. However, the poverty in Honduras and Guatemala has many children seeking opportunities in the greener pastures of America.

Others have been misled by smugglers or persuaded by misinformed individuals who said there was a June deadline in place in the United States in which illegal immigrants who made it to the States before the deadline would be allowed to stay. Other children were promised that they would be reunited with their families living in America. The flood of immigrants from Central America has overwhelmed law enforcement and has backed up deportation.

Henry Cuellar, the representative of Texas’s 28th congressional district, spoke about the current problem of deporting illegal immigrants from noncontiguous countries.

“If you’re a Mexican, you get sent back … but if you’re from a noncontiguous country like the Central American countries, then the law says that you are going to be held, [and] Health and Human Services, it’s going to place you.” said Cuellar, according to a report on Politifact.

Cuellar was referring to the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008. President Bush signed the act with support from Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate to help prevent human trafficking.

Many, including Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, have expressed their displeasure with the situation. Branstad publicly stated that he does not want to house any of the children who have fled their homes in Central America and have crossed into the U.S. illegally. As reported on CBSLocal.com, among a number of other sources, Branstad said: “The first thing we need to do is secure the border. I do have empathy for these kids … but I also don’t want to send the signal that [you] send your kids to America illegally. That’s not the right message.” We believe he makes a valid point. Tolerance would likely open the floodgates to more future illegal immigration.

However, many have fired back, arguing that the children should not be deported back into the hazardous situations they left.

Connie Ryan Terrell, the executive director of the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, is one individual arguing against Branstad. According to a piece in the the Des Moines Register, Terrell said “Gov. Branstad’s lack of compassion and harsh statements are contrary to Iowa values and our history of welcoming immigrants and refugees to Iowa.” She referenced Republican Gov. Robert Ray who, in the 1970s, accommodated many refugees from Southeast Asia. She said, “They need Iowa’s help.”

This is the moral quandary of the situation. Can we in good conscience send children back to a situation in which they are at greater risk of dying? Would any of us act differently if we were in their shoes? Probably.

Early last week, President Barack Obama asked Congress for $3.7 billion to resolve the immigration crisis. In a Politifact article, Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said: “I’m not going to vote to approve $3.7 billion for the president to hire more lawyers and to squander in a way that he has designed … There is nothing in this that actually secures the border.”

 King is partially correct. The majority of the money will be used to sustain the children during this transitioning period and pay for the following legal process. However, Politifact reports that anywhere from $177 million to $1 billion could be sent to assist strengthening the border.

On Monday, the Department of Homeland Security stated that approximately 40 immigrants were sent back to Honduras after being held in a detention center in New Mexico. As the issue further unfolds, we’ll see how political officials handle the influx of children. They might, through plenty of discussion — or argument — decide to let empathy guide their actions, allowing unaccompanied minors the opportunity — or, at the very least, safety — of remaining in the United States. They might choose to strictly adhere to the law. Perhaps, somewhere, there’s a healthy middle ground.


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