The huge story over the past few weeks has been the flood of unaccompanied children crossing our southern border. Sifting through the stories of protest, counter protest, opinion pro and con, and out right fabrications, these elements are on my mind:
-As the Watergate informer Deep Throat said, “Follow the money.” Central American children can’t make that hazardous trip from their home country through the hostile land of Mexico alone without help any more than a large number of primary school kids of this country could travel to the Border (or anywhere else) on their own. They are being brought as part of a strategy to distract from other more sinister operations. Undo this strategy and the flood stops. There are private organization(s) profiting from the flood, criminal organizations. Nobody seems to be asking which big players are benefiting from this.
-Our Immigration policy plays strong favorites in whom we admit to this country. A young man from Central America with a 95 mile-per-hour fastball is always welcome, as do rich people threatened when local rulers are overthrown violently. I don’t hear many questions about whether refugees from Cuba should be accepted or not. If nothing else, the priorities of our immigration policies should be questioned more, and even legislated. Immigration quotas were originally set to control the number of Asian immigrants and those considered “undesirable” in the 19th century. There’s no good reason we shouldn’t have a guest worker program as other countries do. At least we should stop being unbalanced and discriminatory in our policies.
-I’ve read a few of the personal stories of the kids who’re crossing the border. Given the situations they’re coming from, sending them back seems to make as much sense as sending folks back across the Iron Curtain of my youth, or sending an abused child back to an abusive parent. Most of us would want to escape these kinds of Hell, especially when we know there’s nothing we can do to change it. Expecting them to make things different doesn’t seem realistic; it’s as realistic to expect them to change their countries as to expect our children to change our country in the here and now.
-In some ways, I’m surprised war hawks aren’t calling for military intervention in Mexico and Central America. The governments of those countries seem to be fighting a losing battle against organized crime, and I would imagine most ranchers and other residents of the border area would say the drug traffickers are a more immediate threat to American life and property than anyone in the Middle East. I’m not advocating this myself, but given the enthusiasm some folks have for sending troops to Syria and other places, it seems odd that our neighbors who could be considered threats aren’t on the radar.
-The generating situation of illegal immigration is the political and economic reality of Mexico and Central America. Working on this reality would be difficult but given our interest in the situation, there is no reason not to entertain ideas, even radical ideas, for improving life there. It would do more to stem the tide than any technology on the border.
-There is one body which could do a lot of good that isn’t: Congress. They could come up with a wide range of proposals, ranging from conservative to liberal, and provide some hope of eventual resolution. Instead they seem preoccupied with fixing blame and doing nothing. I think any member of Congress, Republican or Democrat, who is willing to jam the gears of government in order to get their way should be expelled from office. I wonder who profits from Congressional inaction other than the Mexican drug cartels.
-Very little is said about the jobs undocumented immigrants are taking, and less about who would replace them when they go. Our welfare system is not good enough to encourage huge numbers of otherwise able people to sit idle. Like any system, our social services get abused: that’s a fact of life that’s probably inescapable. If we ended every system that could be abused, there would be no business, government, or social institution that could survive. More needs to be done to analyze who takes which job and why. Many of the jobs the undocumented are doing most Americans would be physically incapable of, such as in agricultural field labor, or consider an unjust set of conditions, such as workers who are putting in 12 hour shifts six days per week. Are they really taking jobs legal residents want? Undocumented children don’t seem to be a threat to anyone’s job in the here and now.
-I’ve heard it speculated we should let prisoners do the physical labor the undocumented are doing now. Ignoring the fact most prisoners would rather sit in jail rather than work given the choice, most prisoners wouldn’t be in physical shape to do the labor and the quality of forced labor is extremely low. If the Civil War hadn’t happened the uncertain quality of slave labor would’ve completely undermined the institution over time: unwilling laborers can only be trusted to do work that doesn’t have to be done well. The problem of security with taking prisoners out of prison would require a large increase in manpower to supervise them, and promising early release to prisoners who work hard could put people back on the streets who shouldn’t be there. Prison labor solves nothing.
-The concern about criminals from other countries coming here illegally seems to be overblown. It appears the criminals of other countries are doing well enough at home, and those who make it here are in the service of the gangs to do their work. During the Mariel boatlift of 1980, Castro deliberately sent hard-core criminals and mentally ill over. The final number of undesirables who made the trip was 2% of all who came. I have yet to hear a Central American government is intentionally doing the same. That’s not to say the undocumented are all saints, however the percentage of criminals among them would seem to be normal. (For the sake of clarity, the word “criminal” in this paragraph refers to people convicted of crimes in their previous country of residence.)
-We surely don’t remember the history of our ancestors. I would be surprised if any of the immigrants coming from non-English-speaking countries before the 20th century spoke English with any fluency before they got here. The assimilation of non-English-speaking immigrants over the course of time is fairly straightforward and predictable. World Wars I and II ended the German language culture of the United States, no other immigrant group coming here has built non-English-speaking communities in our midst which lasted any length of time or created lasting enclaves within our borders. There is no reason to believe this history won’t repeat itself.
-Speaking of Christian values, how do we rationalize turning away anyone seeking refuge? Our current economy may not be the greatest, but we don’t have bread lines as they did in the 1930s and even if we had open borders I doubt that reality would return. Even if it did, when did Jesus say get your own first and worry about others later? When did Jesus ever say be sure and protect yourself first? When did Jesus ever give any of his disciples power to directly punish those they felt unworthy on His behalf? A Christianity that ignores the Sermon on the Mount and the many stories of Jesus’ outreach to the poor or redefines them into oblivion isn’t one I can be part of or condone.
The big challenge for all of us is whether we are who we say we are. If we proclaim American values of liberty and justice for all, then we should continually ask ourselves if what we do is about true freedom, truly quality, and making things right for everyone without qualification, not to mention making the World a better and safer place. If we proclaim Christian values, then we have to make Jesus’ Great Commandment “Love one another as I have loved you” the ultimate standard by which we measure all of our thoughts and actions, whether we act as a private individual or as part of our country.
Making the World a better place seems to be both a Christian and an American value. The notion of helping our neighbors to the South create internal peace and economic justice, better confronting the drug cartels, and reforming our current immigration laws would seem to live up to those ideals. I doubt digging deeper trenches around our borders and sending desperate people back into harm’s way does much to promote them.