Friday, August 1, 2014

Can We Have a Compassionate Immigration Policy?

I have now posted over 200 articles on this blog on a wide variety of political and current events topics, many of them controversial.  But in all this time, I have never ventured into the controversy over immigration policy in the US. 

So if it’s not a matter of wanting to avoid controversy, why have I avoided it for so long?  The simple answer is that I have such mixed feelings over the issue to where I just had a really hard time voicing an opinion I could solidly stand behind. 

On one hand, immigration policy is a no-brainer.  We reserve the right to control our borders and anyone who is in our country illegally needs to be sent back home.  No if ands or buts. 

But what about the estimated 12 million undocumented residents in our country?  All except the most hard core advocates acknowledge that deporting all of these people would be a logistical impossibility.  And what about those children who were born here to illegal immigrants?  Do we send the parents home and leave the children to fend for themselves here keeping in mind that they are American citizens by birth who cannot be legally deported?    

But my heart just ached seeing the gut-wrenching humanitarian crisis of the tens of thousands of children pouring over the border most of whom were escaping horrible and downright dangerous conditions in their native Central American countries.  For an excellent Q. and A. summary of what is driving this massive exodus of children over our borders, the reader is invited to check out this this link.  Most notable is that many of the children are trying to escape drug and gang-related violence that has propelled Honduras and especially one of its cities, San Pedro Sula to the dreadful title of murder capital of the world. 

It was Senator John McCain who recently said that the only way this influx of immigrant children will stop is when the countries sending them see their children return in planes. I can’t disagree with his logic. But to me, it’s sure as hell lacking in compassion for innocent children who have no control over anything going on around them.  

It was back in 2008 that Congress passed a law saying that refugee children from countries other than bordering Canada and Mexico have a right to a court hearing to try and determine their situation before they are sent back home. Because of the desire to fight human trafficking of children, the measure was passed with broad bipartisan support.  But there are loud voices, especially on the conservative side that are demanding that we repeal this law so we can send these children home quicker and without some of the due process the law demands. 

So here is the immigration problem in a nutshell.  Can we enforce our laws uniformly no matter what extreme hardship (and danger) this places on some people?  Or we can be compassionate and bend the rules a little when common sense tells us we must? 

It is no mystery to me why liberals and conservatives see this issue so differently.  In general, conservatives believe that any well-functioning society must adhere to rules and laws.  An almost unconditional respect for authority above all else is simply an integral part of who they are. 

But they don’t call us bleeding-heart liberals for nothing!  While we do not believe in anarchy, we do believe that compassion must be a part of our rules and laws that we choose whether it comes to things like safety net programs or in this case, immigration..  So while I can completely understand where the conservatives are coming from in wanting to enforce our laws, we must also be compassionate to those in dire circumstances! 

Dealing with refugee children from strife-torn parts of the world is nothing new.  While there have been more recent examples, perhaps the most poignant was when England accepted refugee Jewish children escaping from pre-World War II Europe under a program called Kindertransport.  And while it wasn’t until later that Hitler announced his intention of exterminating the Jewish population, with many of these children having parents in concentration camps, it wasn’t unreasonable to assume that we were likely saving their lives.
The Kindertransport (German for children transport) is a rescue mission that took place during the nine months prior to the outbreak of the Second World War. The United Kingdom took in nearly 10,000 predominantly Jewish children from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and the Free City of Danzig. The children were placed in British foster homes, hostels, schools and farms. Often they were the only members of their families who survived the Holocaust. 
On 15 November 1938, 5 days after the devastation of Kristallnacht , the Night of Broken Glass , in Germany and Austria, a delegation of British Jewish and Quaker leaders appealed in person to the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Neville Chamberlain. Among other measures, they requested that the British government permit the temporary admission of unaccompanied Jewish children, without their parents.

Kindertransport had something in common with our present law on child refugees – only the children could come and not the parents.  It has been said by some that these are just some parents who are taking advantage of a loophole in our immigration laws to smuggle their children in. But there are a few problems with this view.  One is that while some children are escaping abject poverty, most of the others are from places that are known to have horrible violence as a daily part of their lives.  Is it any wonder that even an ultra-conservative like Glenn Beck has deeply angered many conservatives by offering to send supplies and toys to the children to help comfort them during their ordeal?
"Everybody is telling me I'm seeing subscriptions down; I'm seeing Mercury One donations down," Beck noted, emotionally. "I'm getting violent emails from people who say I've 'betrayed the Republic.' Whatever. I've never taken a position more deadly to my career than this — and I have never, ever taken a position that is more right than this."

But more to the point, how can any parent that truly loves their children send them off to another country without them with perhaps the chance that they may never see them again?  For both the Jewish parents back then and the parents of the present refugees, this was clearly an act of desperation! 

President Obama has said all of the ‘right’ things by saying that after the children are processed by our immigration system, the great majority will be sent back and that they should stop sending these children.  But let’s get real!  Imagine in a typical court hearing, a small child describing the horrid conditions in the country he or she came from.  How can anybody at the hearing refute what that child is saying?  How can anybody with a heart put this child on a plane to go home where he or she may well be in mortal danger? 

NYT op-ed writer Charles Blow in his article The Crisis of Children at our Border summed things up elegantly:
To be sure, sending an unaccompanied child, alone, with a “coyote,” for a treacherous trip hundreds of miles long, is not safe. The children are vulnerable to all manner of mistreatment, and may in fact not even make it. 
But that is precisely why we must treat the children who do arrive with compassion. Children aren’t caught up in the politics of this. They are just doing as they’re told, many no doubt shadowed by fear, moving surreptitiously through unknown lands toward the dream of a brighter tomorrow. They dream as any child dreams — of happiness and horrors. 
And their parents are no doubt like any parents, forced to make the most wrenching of decisions, sometimes about whether to leave a child in a never-ending hell or have them risk a hellish journey to a better place. 
No parent makes such a choice lightly.