First, let’s get the wacky stuff (albeit, people genuinely believe this) out of the way: No, the 50,000 unaccompanied children fleeing Honduras and other Latin American countries have not somehow been orchestrated or otherwise guided by President Obama as a…well, I’m not sure what they think that means. Nor is it a way to get more voters for the Democratic Party. For one, illegal individuals cannot vote. For two, children cannot vote. For three, for the love of God, please think beyond the boringly trite “liberals vs conservatives” dynamic.
And no, they are not invaders with diseases. They are goddamn human beings fleeing incredibly violent countries and poverty.
Okay, now, let’s talk about this. I’m addressing conservatives and so-called libertarians mostly, but I’m sure liberals hold many of the same views; their rhetoric is usually just nicer about it. I’m basically going to to address the arguments I keep encountering from detractors. But before I do that, let’s frame this in the correct way:
This is a refugee problem, not an illegal immigration problem.
Yet, before we even address whether this is a refugee or immigration problem, we have to understand why it’s even happening. I know there’s a lot of primers I’m offering here, but it’s important to understand the breadth of the situation.
A study by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees found that 58 percent of the unaccompanied children are motivated by safety concerns, fearing conditions back home.
Well, what security concerns? Many of these children are coming from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and other Latin/Central American countries torn asunder by gang violence, which is fueled by the drug trade. The children see the treacherous trek to our border preferable to staying home.
Now, the drug trade and also foreign policy brings the United States into it (and it also factors into an argument I’ll address later). We’ve long meddled into Central American politics, often propping up brutal dictators for strategic reasons. Marine Corps. Gen. John Kelly elaborates on the drug war:
“Drug cartels and associated street gang activity in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, which respectively have the world’s number one, four and five highest homicide rates, have left near-broken societies in their wake.” He notes that while he works on this problem throughout the region, these three countries, also known as the Northern Triangle, are “far and away the worst off.”
With a homicide rate of 90 per 100,000 in Honduras, and 40 per 100,000 in Guatemala, life in the region is decidedly rougher than “declared combat zones” like Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the general says the rate is 28 per 100,00.”
This is your black market on drugs. This is prohibition. That is what’s driving this surge in violence which in turn is driving the refugee crisis. The United States has given hundreds of millions of dollars to Mexico and Columbia to help them fight their drug wars. As the Cato Institutes Ted Carpenter explains, “Mexican cartels began to move operations into Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador in 2008 as the pressure in Mexico mounted. Put pressure on the drug cartels in one area, and the drug trade just pops up somewhere else.” And that’s exactly what’s happened.
It’s basic economics. Prohibition creates an ugly black market where thugs and gangsters use violence to keep their market share. Drug reform would allow a legal form of competition with these black market thugs, thereby helping to decrease the violence. It’s not a panacea policy by no means, but it sure is better than doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.
Now, we understand what’s fueling the children to flee a shitty situation, but does that mean they’re illegal immigrants or refugees? Well, I certainly think fleeing a violent situation qualifies as being a refugee and going by the UN study, most of those fleeing cite safety as a main concern.
In short, then, we helped fuel this problem with our fallacious War on Drugs and now we need to accept this refugee crisis for what it is and respond accordingly and humanely.
Community activist, Michael Seifert, puts it this way:
“A refugee flees,” said Seifert. “All the families know the extraordinary danger of the trip through Mexico. That’s one of the questions we get asked all the time: ‘How can any parent let their child go north through Mexico to the United States?’ Well, the response is, ‘There really isn’t anything viable on the ground [in Central America], they’re simply trying to save their kids’ lives.’”
It’s a cost-benefit analysis. No parent should have to make that analysis, but the reality is what is, so they believe making the trek to the U.S. is preferable to staying in Central America with the shadow of drug gangs hanging over their heads.
Anyhow, here are some arguments I hear that I want to address:
1. We can’t take in these children. We have to take care of our own. Look at how many homeless we have (including homeless veterans).
Aside from the problems I have with “take care of our own,” let’s consider this. We look at a country like Turkey that’s taking in 1 million refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war (Jordan has 2 million) and we say, “You have to take them.” But when we have 50,000, we say, “Nah, it’s too burdensome. The system is stretched too thin.” Does nobody see the problem here?
I also think they are full of shit, to be perfectly honest. Those same conservatives would be blasting homeless people for being burdens on the system, moochers and so on that JUST NEED TO GET A JOB and stop being lazy. So, yeah.
2. I don’t want my taxpayer dollars going to house illegal immigrants. Will YOU house them since you care so much?
First off, your problem, then, should be with taxation, but anyway, I don’t want my taxpayer dollars going to deporting these children. So, how about we compromise that our taxpayer dollars will pay for something (and absolutely minuscule at that) and do what’s humane and the right thing to do for children fleeing rape, violence and poverty?
3. Why don’t they just come the legal way? I have no problem with immigrants, just illegal immigrants.
That’s assuming children and even their parents understand the bureaucracy and tangle of red tape necessary to come the legal way. Desperation is desperation. Making the voyage here should be enough. And the problem there is also that the legal pathway is too burdened by red tape; it’s broken. Fix the legal pathway.
4. My ancestors came here the legal way, why can’t they?
Somewhat similar to above, but this is inaccurate reading of the history of immigration to the United States. For much of our history, we had basically a, if you make it here, you’re good, policy. That’s not the case today.
5. They’re a burden on our welfare system.
I’ll let George Geankoplis’ great quote answer that, “You know what really increases welfare use? Illicit drug use. Should we a. advocate legalization or b. advocate stricter drug control until the welfare state is ended?” For some reason, conservatives and some libertarians see it as necessary to utilize big government (soldiers on the border, immigration controls) to protect big government (welfare) from free people freely move about and trying to make a better life for themselves. It hardly makes sense.
6. It’s not our problem; let those countries deal with it.
While true, those countries should be doing something, for instance, Mother Jones had a conversation with Michelle Brané, director of migrant rights at the Women’s Refugee Commission, said:
“Mexico also has to acknowledge that many of these children need protection. Mexico also has very good asylum laws on the books. What they don’t have is the resources and the infrastructure to support implementing those policies.”
And as I’ve already mentioned, it is our problem since 1.) We helped create it and 2.) They’re coming across our border.
There’s probably more arguments against taking in these refugee children, but those are some of the big ones I keep running into.
It’s time to do the right thing. I have no interest in using big government to stop the free movement of free people, especially from a situation we created and festered.