Few images tug at our heartstrings more than those of sleeping children. Such pictures have been prominent in illustrating newspaper stories about the surge of children across our southern border. The stories themselves generally appeal to our parental instincts. There is talk about the hazardous journeys of those children, desperately fleeing from frightening conditions in Central America.
How barbaric it would be, any humane person might conclude from the stories, to send them back to a place such as Tegucigalpa. So, goes this argument, every effort should be made to unite them with their parents who left them behind when they illegally came to the US, or to find other people here to care for them.
But it is important to look at the situation more carefully, considering the well-being of others besides the young sleepers, and to think more about what is really in the best interest of children such as these. For the most part, the impression given by conventional news media is that the US government is trying to do the right thing in a difficult situation. Is that really so?
What precipitated the surge?
The principal countries of origin, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, would not rank high in a list of the happiest nations. Most of the people there are very poor. All three countries have been dangerous for decades with violence levels varying, but high. Cocaine plays an important role. But, until late in 2013, there had never been any significant exodus of children from these countries heading for the US. What changed ?
President Obama, without consulting congress, issued an executive order in June, 2012, to the effect that those who came to the United States illegally before age 16, would no longer be subject to deportation . Over 800,000 people were in this category. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano followed up by announcing that work permits would be given to many young illegal immigrants . This clear message was obviously received by people all over the world as an invitation to come here. The number of children caught every month crossing our southern border illegally has risen recently to over 10,000.
In a sense, mixed signals are being sent in that, every day, many illegal immigrants, often with criminal records, are deported. But many other illegal immigrants are encouraged to remain by admitting them to colleges, allowing them to get drivers licenses, doing little or nothing to stop employers from hiring them, and, in general, not trying very hard to catch and deport them , or even to find them. Local police, are, in most places, discouraged, or even prohibited, from stopping and questioning people who seem likely to be illegal immigrants.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said, (Apr 27, 2014) "...we need to encourage the 11.5 million undocumented immigrants in this country to come out of the shadows, become accountable and get on an earned path to citizenship." . As of May 2014, over 560,000 young illegals had been shielded by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, , which has recently been renewed.
Clearly, the change that precipitated the exodus was the news indicating that the US government is permitting large numbers of children who came here illegally to remain. This encouraged parents in poor countries to try to come here with their children, or to send their children here. There are also some teenagers who are deciding on their own to make the trip. The 1986 amnesty for almost 3 million illegals led to a great increase in illegal immigration, and all the current talk, proposed legislation, and executive actions, especially with regard to children, has made it reasonable to assume that, if they come, the likelihood is that, one way or another, they will be allowed to remain.
This has created a demand for the services of people who can facilitate the necessary travel and border crossing. Many drug-smugglers are finding people-smuggling to be a lucrative sideline. Depending on where the trip begins, charges range from a few thousand dollars to perhaps $7000 per person from Central America. From China, the charge may be as high as $40,000 .
Incidentally there is some doubt that fear of violence is the main force driving children to the US. There is evidence that the major motivation is the prospect of getting a good job .
Is migration an appropriate solution
Front-page stories in the NY Times tell us about traumatic experiences of specific children from Honduras coming to the US via Mexico . The stories, with pictures, carry the message that the decent thing to do is to welcome these children to the US, uniting them with parents if they are already here (legally or illegally). Presumably, if the parents are not already here, they should be invited to come so that families can be re-united.
Billions of people, all over the world, are leading miserable lives. Many often go hungry, lack adequate shelter, and are victims of intimidation and violence. Any one of them would most likely be better off in the US. But focussing on heart rendering cases of individuals, especially children, while ignoring the bigger picture, can lead to very bad decision making.