Commentary Magazine


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.

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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One Response to “Immigration and the Humanitarian Snare”

  1. KAREN BEKKER says:

    Of the 3,141 counties in the US, how many have 20 adults on waiting lists to take in foster kids? While some of these children probably have family here waiting to take them in, it must be the case that many do not. Will they be in institutions and group homes? Children need more than school to be “assimilated” successfully. Who will care for them once they are here? Eight years old with teddy bears, criminals or not, need parents.

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