No matter how much you love your children, if you were a parent in Honduras, you might be tempted to ship them to the United States.
According to the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, Honduras has the highest homicide rate in the world. In 2012, Honduras had 90.4 homicides per 100,000 people. The United States had 4.8, Canada had 1.6 and Mexico had 21.5.
Honduras is also very poor. Unemployment is high, and there is less development than ever in Haiti. There are also gangs that recruit, enslave and murder children.
So if you were a Honduran parent and smugglers offered you a chance to get your child to the United States, you might take it, assuming you could gather the money to pay.
In recent weeks, we have seen numerous stories about the explosive increase in the number of children who are making the long and dangerous crossing of Mexico to the U.S. border from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.
Our Border Patrol arrested fewer than 4,000 unaccompanied minors from these three countries in 2011, but more than 52,000 have been arrested since October of last year.
If these children were from Mexico, they would be turned around at the border and sent back quickly. But a special law passed in 2008 to combat human trafficking guarantees children from countries that do not border the United States a hearing before an immigration judge and legal advice including lawyers. Any good immigration lawyer can slow the legal process and keep the children in the United States year after year.
A few weeks ago, President Barack Obama had a simple message to Central American countries.
“Do not send your children to the borders,” Obama said. “If they do make it, they’ll get sent back. More importantly, they may not make it.”
As if he had just awoken from a deep slumber, Obama now wants an immediate $3.7 billion from Congress to fight a problem he has ignored for years.
He wants to give $1.8 billion to the Health and Human Services Department to better care for the immigrant children in the United States. This is a good thing. Seeing pictures of little kids in detention centers wrapped in those silver blankets as if they were ballpark hotdogs was heart wrenching.
And those kids shouldn’t be in detention centers at all. They should be with family members in the United States (about 15 percent of the domestic population of Honduras already lives in the United States) or foster homes, which is what the 2008 law envisioned.
Next, Obama wants to give $1.5 billion to the Department of Homeland Security to beef up border security with more overtime for agents, more aerial surveillance and more drones. This is a waste.
These children from Central America are not fleeing from our Border Patrol agents, they are fleeing to them. These children want to surrender, enter the legal process and find a home here.
Obama also wants $300 million to go to the State Department to help “stabilize” the Central American countries that the kids are fleeing — a nice thought, but how much of that $300 million is going to end up in the pockets of politicians and other criminals?
And lastly, Obama wants $64 million for the Justice Department to hire more immigration judges so he can send the children back to Central America more quickly and hire more asylum lawyers to fight to keep the children here.
See a contradiction there?
“I have a problem with this administration,” said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa). “On the one hand, they say we want to send kids back as soon as possible. Then they turn around and say, ‘Well, but these kids are escaping violence and drugs and sexual abuse and gangs. How do you reconcile those two?’ ”
The Obama administration does not.
My go-to guy on immigration is Bruce Morrison, a former Democratic congressman from Connecticut who was chairman of the House Immigration subcommittee, a member of the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform and House author of the Immigration Act of 1990. He is now an immigration attorney and lobbies on a wide variety of immigration issues.
“This is not a border security issue,” he said. “The border isn’t insecure. We don’t need more people to catch these people. We have no trouble catching these kids.
“And if we have $3.7 billion to spend, I am not sure it’s best spent on more lawyers in the United States. This is a job program for bureaucrats.”
Morrison thinks Obama gets very little credit for what he does do right on immigration: Hundred of thousands of “border removals” each year, in which people who get stopped at the border without documents are promptly sent back to their home countries.
Morrison also thinks too much is being made over the 50,000 or so undocumented children who have shown up on our doorstep, considering we have 11 million undocumented people in the country already.
“Let’s not panic and send people back to their deaths,” Morrison said. “These are children.”
Morrison wants the children who are already here to be handled under existing law. But he wants Obama to draw a line in the sand, suspend the 2008 law for children from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, and make it more attractive for people in those countries to go to U.S. embassies and apply for refugee status in America.
Obama said he wanted to make comprehensive immigration reform his top priority for his second term. But this new immigration problem is not the one he wanted to tangle with.
“This is just something that is going to give him 10,000 more gray hairs,” Morrison said.