Commentary Magazine


Topic: Central America

Immigration and the Humanitarian Snare

Momentum seems to be building for granting asylum to the tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors who have illegally crossed into the United States from Central America. But lost amid the rush to brand opposition to asylum as uncaring, if not racist, is a serious discussion about whether the U.S. is really obligated to take in every illegal immigrant child who fled violence at home.

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Momentum seems to be building for granting asylum to the tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors who have illegally crossed into the United States from Central America. But lost amid the rush to brand opposition to asylum as uncaring, if not racist, is a serious discussion about whether the U.S. is really obligated to take in every illegal immigrant child who fled violence at home.

With the mainstream media seeking to stoke sympathy for these kids, it is hardly surprising that a new poll shows that 69 percent of Americans believe the children should be allowed to stay if it wasn’t safe for them to be sent home. Figures as diverse as Hillary Clinton and conservative icon George Will have also endorsed treating the kids as refugees.

While it is no surprise that Clinton would seek to play the sympathy card for the illegals, Will’s statement dismissing concerns about the children is a significant victory for immigration advocates:

My view is that we ought to say to these children, welcome to America. You’re going to go to school and get a job and become Americans. We have 3,141 counties in this country. That would be 20 per county. The idea that we can’t assimilate these 8-year-old criminals with their teddy bears is preposterous.

Will is right that these children are not in and of themselves a threat to the country. Immigration strengthens the country. These children may well make impressive contributions to the country if allowed to study and grow up here. Moreover, so long as the discussion about this topic centers on the plight of these kids and the awful conditions in places like Honduras, Guatemala, or El Salvador, it is hard to argue that children who have already suffered terribly during their dangerous treks to the U.S. should be sent back to a situation where their lives could be in danger.

But there is more at stake in this debate about their future than a test of the country’s ability to empathize with the downtrodden. A decision to allow these children to stay will end the issue but will not end this crisis. Instead, as we should have already learned, anything other than a strong signal that the illegals won’t be allowed to stay will ensure that the border will continue to be a magnet for an unending stream of illegals including children for the foreseeable future.

I sympathize with these children and their families who look to the United States as a haven from the awful conditions in much of Central America. Nor do I share the fear of immigrants or the belief that their presence damages the nation. Our broken immigration system should be fixed and, in the long run, some solution must be found for the 12 million illegals already here since talk of their deportation is merely empty rhetoric.

But any country, even the United States, is entitled to control its borders and to see its laws enforced. A failure to send the kids home will send a loud message to the region that will encourage more to try to cross the border, a dangerous process that hurts the children and winds up saddling the U.S. with more illegal aliens.

Moreover, the proposition that America has no choice but to allow the kids to stay as refugees is unsupported by law or common sense. The traditional definition of a refugee is a person who has been forced to flee their homes by war, persecution, or a natural disaster. As bad as conditions are in Central America where drug gangs have made the life of many hell, the idea that crime or poverty in the absence of those other factors can make someone a refugee with a legal right to stay here is virtually unprecedented.

Even more to the point, the notion that it is the job of the United States to not only aid neighbors in distress but to take as many of them into our borders without them obtaining permission is to create an open-ended definition of America’s obligations that has no end in sight. After all, those three nations are not the only ones where kids are in danger.

You don’t have to be an opponent of immigration or oppose reform to understand that the loose talk from the White House about allowing young illegals to stay helped set off the current crisis. To compound this mistake by failing to send these children home will be to send a message that America’s immigration laws are meaningless and that the border is no barrier to those who wish to take advantage of the country’s bounty regardless of legal rights.

The question here isn’t whether we can, as Will stated, assimilate these children. Of course we can. It’s whether an overly broad definition of refugee status will be manipulated by the administration in order to begin the process by which all illegals will be granted permission to stay, perhaps by executive orders in order to boycott Congress.

What is happening at the border is a humanitarian crisis, albeit a man-made one. But it cannot be used as an excuse to justify a lawless approach to governance that will make it impossible for genuine reforms to ever gain majority support. If the president wishes to help aid the people of Central America, he will, no doubt, have the majority of Americans behind him. But America cannot solve the problems of Central America by importing its children. Rolling out the welcome mat for these illegals is a humanitarian snare that will merely ensure that they will be just the first wave of an endless tide of undocumented migrants.

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Compassion and the Rule of Law

The surge of illegal aliens–and in particular unaccompanied minors from Central America–across the border in Texas has started a debate in which more than immigration reform seems to be stake. While most conservatives are decrying the situation as the result of President Obama’s mistakes, some liberals are focusing on what they believe is the lack of compassion for the children that is being forgotten amid the politics. But as the plight of these desperate kids becomes publicized, Americans are being asked to make a choice between their charitable instincts and the rule of law.

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The surge of illegal aliens–and in particular unaccompanied minors from Central America–across the border in Texas has started a debate in which more than immigration reform seems to be stake. While most conservatives are decrying the situation as the result of President Obama’s mistakes, some liberals are focusing on what they believe is the lack of compassion for the children that is being forgotten amid the politics. But as the plight of these desperate kids becomes publicized, Americans are being asked to make a choice between their charitable instincts and the rule of law.

That’s the conceit of a good deal of the coverage of the reaction to the border surge in which demonstrations by Americans angry about the arrival of busloads of illegals are seen as proof of the intolerance and anger at the heart of resistance to immigration reform. The deplorable condition of many of these children and the hardships and violence they faced on their way to the United States all demand the sympathy of any decent person. Once in this country, they deserve humanitarian aid. Republicans who have expressed reluctance to allocate funds to deal with the crisis may be right not to trust President Obama to use the $3.7 billion he has requested wisely. But so long as they are on American soil, there can be no question that the government and concerned citizens must do whatever is needed to see that they are housed, fed, and given the medical care they need.

But that isn’t what’s at stake in this debate. Nobody is saying that the kids shouldn’t be cared for. But the notion, pushed by the United Nations and a growing volume of liberal commentators, is that we must treat these illegals as refugees and let them stay in America rather than being sent back home.

The argument for this proposition rests principally on the idea that the kids are in genuine danger from violence in their own countries. Looked at from that point of view, sending them back would be a death sentence. Thus, granting them asylum is being represented as not merely ethical but our obligation as civilized people.

But the problem with this reasoning is that if this position is allowed to stand, Central America and indeed, much of the rest of the world, might well empty out as immigrants seeking a better life pour into the United States.

It may well be that some of the unaccompanied minors who have come here recently in their tens of thousands would be in danger back home. But the laws regarding refugees were intended to provide a haven to those with a genuine fear of persecution because of their politics, ethnicity, or religious beliefs, not merely those who had the bad luck to live in a country where the rule of law has broken down. Violence is nothing new in Central American countries and even if it has surged lately, declaring that anyone who had fled these nations has a right to stay in the U.S. would render all existing immigration law and even the concept of borders meaningless.

Such compassion is, after all, relative. Those declaring that the United States must absorb children sent streaming over our borders by parents who hope they will be allowed to stay are not, after all, also advocating that war refugees from Syria, Iraq, or Afghanistan or conflicts in dozens of other countries also be taken in with no questions asked. The point of such demands is not merely humanitarian but to underscore demands that those already in the country illegally be allowed a path to legalization if not citizenship.

I have always been sympathetic to such arguments since it seems to me that 11 million people cannot be deported and therefore amnesty is what we’re experiencing now. But the border surge and the subsequent demands to grant tens of thousands of illegal aliens who are minors asylum demonstrates the danger of signaling that illegals will not be deported.

Granting refugee status to the current group of unaccompanied minors will herald the start of future surges that no amount of border patrol or improved security will be able to halt.

If these children deserve compassion, and they do, then by all means the U.S. should extend it to them. If it means more aid to the countries where they must be repatriated or the creation of centers in those countries where they can be protected against predators and poverty, then so be it. But if they are allowed to stay we might as well kiss goodbye any hope of America being able to police its borders or to have a say in who comes or goes.

As the people of many Central American nations have learned to their sorrow, the collapse of the rule of law means is the beginning of the rule of predators and the end of compassion. If we are to avoid the same fate and to be of any use to those who understandably wish to come here–whether legally or illegally–we must not allow a false argument for compassion to undermine our rule of law.

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Sic Transit Dodd

The decision of Connecticut Senator Christopher Dodd to avoid the humiliation of being defeated for re-election later this year may well help the Democrats hold his seat. It was more than likely that either of his Republican opponents — former Congressman Rob Simmons or pro-wrestling tycoon Linda McMahon — would have beaten the five-term incumbent handily. However, if the Democrats nominate Richard Blumenthal, the Nutmeg State’s attorney general, the odds may shift back in favor of the Democrats. Once the rising star of Connecticut Democratic politics, Blumenthal has held that office since 1990. However the timorous though ambitious Blumenthal passed on every opportunity since then to run for higher office because he feared defeat. At 66, Blumenthal is no longer a boy wonder, but his reputation is spotless. Yesterday, Dodd’s seat was a likely GOP pickup in 2010. Today it must be considered an open seat that the Democrats will probably hold.

As for the demise of Dodd, the fact that his political career comes to an end as a result of ethical scandals is a sad irony. Prior to his recent difficulties, Dodd was best remembered as Ted Kennedy’s favorite drinking buddy or as the leading voice of liberal opposition to the Reagan administration’s efforts to stop the spread of communism in Central America in the 1980s – the same timeframe when Dodd was dating Bianca Jagger.

But the animating spirit of the career of this liberal party animal (Dodd used to joke that the only reason he had accepted President Clinton’s request that he assume the chairmanship of the Democratic Party’s National Committee was that the question had come up while they were on a bad phone connection and the only word he heard clearly was “party,” so of course he agreed.) was his desire to honor the memory of his father Thomas, who served in the U.S. Senate from 1958 to 1970. In 1967, the Senate formally censured the elder Dodd for transferring campaign funds to his personal accounts. The spectacle of the Senate humiliating one of its own in this fashion doomed Tom Dodd’s re-election chances in 1970, and he died of a heart attack soon after leaving office. But the pain of this incident never left his son, who launched his own career a few years later in no small measure as an effort to vindicate the family name. While Tom Dodd was a fervent anti-Communist who at one time was a paid lobbyist for the dictator of Guatemala, Chris became the scourge of those seeking to prop up Latin American governments against leftist revolutionaries. But despite this difference, the younger Dodd sought every possible opportunity to burnish his late father’s tattered reputation. He never missed an opportunity to claim that his father had been ill-used by the press and his colleagues. Though many at the time thought the campaign funds charge was just the tip of the iceberg of Tom Dodd’s corruption, Chris was vocal in claiming that his father was innocent. It was at Dodd’s insistence that the University of Connecticut established a special research center named for his father. He also fought to have a minor league baseball stadium in Norwich named for Tom Dodd.

Thus, it is no small irony that a man who spent his life trying to clear the name of his father wound up being sunk by the same sort of charges. Dodd’s crooked Irish real estate deal, his notorious membership in the “Friends of Angelo” VIP mortgage club at Countrywide Financial while chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, and his legislative efforts to clear the way for bonuses to be paid to AIG executives marked him as a symbol of a new generation of corrupt Washington politicians. The son repeated the sins of the father.

Also ironic is the fact that despite Dodd’s efforts to help defeat his Connecticut colleague Joe Lieberman in 2006 for his apostasy in supporting the war in Iraq, one year from now Lieberman will still be in the Senate and Dodd will not.

The decision of Connecticut Senator Christopher Dodd to avoid the humiliation of being defeated for re-election later this year may well help the Democrats hold his seat. It was more than likely that either of his Republican opponents — former Congressman Rob Simmons or pro-wrestling tycoon Linda McMahon — would have beaten the five-term incumbent handily. However, if the Democrats nominate Richard Blumenthal, the Nutmeg State’s attorney general, the odds may shift back in favor of the Democrats. Once the rising star of Connecticut Democratic politics, Blumenthal has held that office since 1990. However the timorous though ambitious Blumenthal passed on every opportunity since then to run for higher office because he feared defeat. At 66, Blumenthal is no longer a boy wonder, but his reputation is spotless. Yesterday, Dodd’s seat was a likely GOP pickup in 2010. Today it must be considered an open seat that the Democrats will probably hold.

As for the demise of Dodd, the fact that his political career comes to an end as a result of ethical scandals is a sad irony. Prior to his recent difficulties, Dodd was best remembered as Ted Kennedy’s favorite drinking buddy or as the leading voice of liberal opposition to the Reagan administration’s efforts to stop the spread of communism in Central America in the 1980s – the same timeframe when Dodd was dating Bianca Jagger.

But the animating spirit of the career of this liberal party animal (Dodd used to joke that the only reason he had accepted President Clinton’s request that he assume the chairmanship of the Democratic Party’s National Committee was that the question had come up while they were on a bad phone connection and the only word he heard clearly was “party,” so of course he agreed.) was his desire to honor the memory of his father Thomas, who served in the U.S. Senate from 1958 to 1970. In 1967, the Senate formally censured the elder Dodd for transferring campaign funds to his personal accounts. The spectacle of the Senate humiliating one of its own in this fashion doomed Tom Dodd’s re-election chances in 1970, and he died of a heart attack soon after leaving office. But the pain of this incident never left his son, who launched his own career a few years later in no small measure as an effort to vindicate the family name. While Tom Dodd was a fervent anti-Communist who at one time was a paid lobbyist for the dictator of Guatemala, Chris became the scourge of those seeking to prop up Latin American governments against leftist revolutionaries. But despite this difference, the younger Dodd sought every possible opportunity to burnish his late father’s tattered reputation. He never missed an opportunity to claim that his father had been ill-used by the press and his colleagues. Though many at the time thought the campaign funds charge was just the tip of the iceberg of Tom Dodd’s corruption, Chris was vocal in claiming that his father was innocent. It was at Dodd’s insistence that the University of Connecticut established a special research center named for his father. He also fought to have a minor league baseball stadium in Norwich named for Tom Dodd.

Thus, it is no small irony that a man who spent his life trying to clear the name of his father wound up being sunk by the same sort of charges. Dodd’s crooked Irish real estate deal, his notorious membership in the “Friends of Angelo” VIP mortgage club at Countrywide Financial while chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, and his legislative efforts to clear the way for bonuses to be paid to AIG executives marked him as a symbol of a new generation of corrupt Washington politicians. The son repeated the sins of the father.

Also ironic is the fact that despite Dodd’s efforts to help defeat his Connecticut colleague Joe Lieberman in 2006 for his apostasy in supporting the war in Iraq, one year from now Lieberman will still be in the Senate and Dodd will not.

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Chavez Agonistes

Hugo Chavez is reportedly refusing to take phone calls from Colombian president Alvaro Uribe. Uribe’s foreign minister can’t get a shout back from his Venezuelan counterpart either. The stonewalling from Caracas comes in the wake of Chavez’s other call on November 8, in his weekly media program, for the Venezuelan army to “prepare for war.” Chavez has been making this kind of call for several months, but last week he also moved 15,000 troops to the border with Colombia. Uribe has responded with 12,000 troops deployed on his side of the border and a request for the UN Security Council and the Organization of American States to rein in Chavez.

The issue, according to Chavez, is the October 30 agreement by Colombia to allow U.S. forces to use its military bases for counter-narcotics operations. Contrary to Chavez’s formulation of the matter, this does not involve a new introduction of American forces into the region. Our forces operated from Ecuador until August 2009 and continue to operate from El Salvador. Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa, reelected in April after doing a “Chavez” on his country’s constitution, decided to let the basing agreement with the U.S. expire in August, and we negotiated the agreement to use Colombian bases this summer. So why is Chavez so frantic about what is, in effect, a shift of bases rather than a change in U.S. military posture?

Because he knows U.S. forces fighting the drug war in Colombia would have a pretext to pursue FARC guerrillas into Venezuela — as FARC was pursued by Colombian troops into Ecuador in 2008 — and that from Colombia, as opposed to Ecuador, American forces would be in a position to do so. It’s merely sound analysis to project that with U.S. forces using multiple Colombian bases, FARC will be increasingly pushed across borders. Venezuela’s is already hospitable; it would be extremely inconvenient to Chavez to try to close it, especially given the reliance of Hezbollah, the protégé of his great friend Iran, on its ties to FARC and the drug trade. Such developments would also interfere with Chavez’s own policy of supporting FARC as a means of weakening the center-right, U.S.-friendly Uribe government.

Ironically, the preference of many in the Obama administration for stand-off, cross-border raids and aerial attacks — as demonstrated in Pakistan — only strengthens the perception in Central America that the shift to Colombian bases will herald U.S. intervention of that kind. The U.S. preoccupation with forcing Honduras to take Manuel Zelaya back has reinforced, meanwhile, the impression that Obama will act in Latin America with a reflexive, high-handed cynicism.

Chavez would be quite correct, even without these factors, that U.S. forces based in Colombia are an impediment to his regional plans. He fears attack because he knows a valid pretext exists for attacking his territory. His antagonism should not stop us, but we had better be prepared for the actions it will prompt, and keep our own purposes and strategy clearly in mind.

Hugo Chavez is reportedly refusing to take phone calls from Colombian president Alvaro Uribe. Uribe’s foreign minister can’t get a shout back from his Venezuelan counterpart either. The stonewalling from Caracas comes in the wake of Chavez’s other call on November 8, in his weekly media program, for the Venezuelan army to “prepare for war.” Chavez has been making this kind of call for several months, but last week he also moved 15,000 troops to the border with Colombia. Uribe has responded with 12,000 troops deployed on his side of the border and a request for the UN Security Council and the Organization of American States to rein in Chavez.

The issue, according to Chavez, is the October 30 agreement by Colombia to allow U.S. forces to use its military bases for counter-narcotics operations. Contrary to Chavez’s formulation of the matter, this does not involve a new introduction of American forces into the region. Our forces operated from Ecuador until August 2009 and continue to operate from El Salvador. Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa, reelected in April after doing a “Chavez” on his country’s constitution, decided to let the basing agreement with the U.S. expire in August, and we negotiated the agreement to use Colombian bases this summer. So why is Chavez so frantic about what is, in effect, a shift of bases rather than a change in U.S. military posture?

Because he knows U.S. forces fighting the drug war in Colombia would have a pretext to pursue FARC guerrillas into Venezuela — as FARC was pursued by Colombian troops into Ecuador in 2008 — and that from Colombia, as opposed to Ecuador, American forces would be in a position to do so. It’s merely sound analysis to project that with U.S. forces using multiple Colombian bases, FARC will be increasingly pushed across borders. Venezuela’s is already hospitable; it would be extremely inconvenient to Chavez to try to close it, especially given the reliance of Hezbollah, the protégé of his great friend Iran, on its ties to FARC and the drug trade. Such developments would also interfere with Chavez’s own policy of supporting FARC as a means of weakening the center-right, U.S.-friendly Uribe government.

Ironically, the preference of many in the Obama administration for stand-off, cross-border raids and aerial attacks — as demonstrated in Pakistan — only strengthens the perception in Central America that the shift to Colombian bases will herald U.S. intervention of that kind. The U.S. preoccupation with forcing Honduras to take Manuel Zelaya back has reinforced, meanwhile, the impression that Obama will act in Latin America with a reflexive, high-handed cynicism.

Chavez would be quite correct, even without these factors, that U.S. forces based in Colombia are an impediment to his regional plans. He fears attack because he knows a valid pretext exists for attacking his territory. His antagonism should not stop us, but we had better be prepared for the actions it will prompt, and keep our own purposes and strategy clearly in mind.

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