The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life
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Monday, July 28, 2014
Current Affairs ... Foreign Relations/World Affairs ... Public Policy ...

Unless you are a doctrinaire liberal or conservative, the unaccompanied child crisis at the Mexican border is a real quandary. On the one hand, you want to sympathize with a humanitarian crisis involving perhaps a hundred-thousand unaccompanied teens and pre-teens showing up each year at the US border seeking a better life. They are coming primarily from nations with high rates of drug trade and gang activity, and thus high rates of violence (primarily Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador).

On the other hand, perhaps the conservatives do have a point when they attribute the crisis to President Obama’s non-enforcement amnesty policies towards illegal aliens, especially illegal children. These policies were publicly announced in 2012 (certainly with political motivation – i.e., to minimize Republican inroads into the Hispanic voting block by figures such as Suzanna Martinez, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, and thus preserve the large Hispanic electoral margins which Democrats increasingly depend upon). Therefore, most Hispanic populations north of Cape Horn have become aware of them. It certainly seems plausible (but not yet fully proven) that many Central Americans believe that if someone can get across the border, they will likely be allowed to stay, especially a child from one of the nations south of Mexico (who are subject to legal judicial process before being sent back, unlike Mexican children, who can be deported immediately; and interestingly, the number of unaccompanied Mexican children crossing the border has actually decreased in recent years).

An alleged USDHS report indicates that about half of the new wave of children at the border are males 13 to 17, with the balance a mix of teen females (many pregnant) and toddlers of both sexes down to 2 or less. The liberal / progressive press keeps emphasizing the terrible, violent conditions in the places where this new wave of unaccompanied children are coming from. They point out that one of the three primary originating nations, Honduras, had six times the murder rate per 100,000 population than Chicago, which has been noted as a rather violent place of late (and for mostly the same reasons – unemployment, drug trade and gangs).

So I took a look myself at the UN statistics regarding national homicide rates per 100,000 population. The latest data goes thru 2012, just when the “three U” (underage/unaccompanied/undocumented) crossing numbers started to surge upward. (Once again, 2012 coincides with Obama’s underage amnesty announcement). Basically, in two of the three nations driving the recent surge (El Salvador and Guatemala), the homicide rate is relatively bad, but bounces around year to year. However, rates have not trended upward in these nations. For both, the rate in 2012 was about 40 homicide deaths per 100,000 population, not much different from previous years (and actually a small reduction in Guatemala).

The rate in Honduras shot up in the 2009-2012 period, reaching about 90. A report by InsightCrime indicates that this rate may have dropped since then, as the government has taken at least some military action against the drug gangs. Honduran government officials are citing a current rate of 60, but that may be a politically motivated number that is somewhat low, according to Insight Crime.

To put this into context: the homicide rate in Newark, NJ, where I work 5 days a week, was 40 in 2013. Which is the same as two of the three big sources of the 3U immigrant tide. And since I work for a criminal justice organization having jurisdiction in Newark, I feel that I can say that the primary drivers are about the same as in Central America: poverty, unemployment, illegal drug trade and street gangs (some of our gangs have ties to Central America, e.g. MS-13). So . . . . to be just a bit ironic . . . let me rhetorically ask . . . should children from Newark be separated from their current households and sent to Brownsville, Texas or Nogales, Arizona? Would they really be better there?

A think-tank called the Migration Policy Institute says that the whole situation is complex and is driven by both “push” and “pull” factors. That makes sense to me. Both the liberals and conservatives are half-right. And the best response (not a GOOD response, as there are no good responses; more like the “best of the bad”) is going to involve both conservative and liberal measures. I agree that children who get across our borders need to be treated humanely, and in many cases be allowed to stay (with adequate documentation). HOWEVER, I also agree that a nation is entitled to control its borders, and that efforts to further tighten up the southern border against illegal entry (without choking off the necessary legitimate trade and travel to and from Mexico – that’s the hard part of it) are needed. I know that the task is daunting, but . . . American ingenuity is pretty amazing too, once unleashed.

For example, years ago it was said by many that the US should not put money into military systems designed to stop incoming missile warheads from hitting our homeland, as it was technologically impossible, just a waste of money. Well, today it’s NOT (and Israel is making good use of such technology to avoid causalities from Gaza missile attacks on its population centers). Missile defense is not fully perfected yet, but it continues to improve. To be honest, Israel and the US may not have had such technology today had President Reagan not overturned the previous political consensus against anti-missile development. If we now have the technology to stop tiny, wiggly projectiles coming at thousands of MPH from the darkness of space, why can’t we develop effective ways of stopping illegal human bodies from crossing a river or a line in the desert? Or for finding them hidden in truck containers or on the underframes of a car or bus? Technology will never be perfect; but unlike an approaching nuclear warhead, getting 3 out of 4 on the border would be a good thing!

Perhaps this current surge of 3U immigrants on the Rio Grande will also be a good thing – as it might force the issue for American politicians, who are currently frozen and locked into doing nothing. It is hopefully becoming apparent that something HAS to be done now, there’s no more time to kick the crisis down the road. Liberals are going to have to accept the prospect of an increasingly tighter southern border turning a LOT of people back into Mexico (and swallow any disgruntlement from their Hispanic voters). Conservatives are going to have to accept amnesty and absorption of many illegals who have already made it (but liberals are going to need to sign-on to strict enforcement against those who slip thru from now on). Life will go on somehow; word will eventually reach Cape Horn that the US border is no longer a Swiss cheese border, and people south of the Rio Grande will need to go the long, official route [including education and other self-improvement] if they plan for a life in the US. Let’s hope that this will be looked at as a former national crisis in 5 to 10 years.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:29 am      

  1. Jim, I’d say I agree with practically everything you discuss in this post. There are things I wonder about, tho. And I’m not saying either that these are things I’d expect you to answer or maybe even anybody to have an answer for. Some things may be more a product of how particular groups in particular cultures assess a particular situation.

    Basically, I should say that there’s a *major* thing I wonder about: If all the stats are as you indicate (and I certainly do not distrust you), then it seems to me that something other than crime has set up this sending of children to our borders. (Certainly, if these children are sent to the U.S. to avoid crime rates, they absolutely better not come to Chicago.) Perhaps the answer lies solely in the point you make about Obama’s having made it easy for children to get in, so why not take advantage of it (would be the reasoning of the parents, presumably).

    Yet, I find myself wondering if simply Obama’s making it easy for children to slip into the U.S. can be the force driving parents to basically leave their children on their own to find their way into the U.S. How is it, perhaps *why* is it that parents are willing to “abandon” their children in such a way? (One certainly couldn’t accuse these parents of being “helicopter” parents.) Are these children *really* “abandoned”, as it seems? Or is there someone simply close across the north border waiting to meet them after the parents have escorted them to the south border and gone into hiding nearby? Thus, the children would not be as “abandoned” as they appear to be. I’m asking a question here rather than proposing that this may actually be the case. As I mentioned above, I’m wondering. . .

    As I think about it, something about this situation seems strange. I remember some years back it was pregnant women who were taking serious chances with their own and their unborn child’s care/comfort/health (to say nothing of their own in giving birth perhaps in a desert in the U.S.), etc., in order to get across the border. At that time there was no Obama making it easy to get across. Yet, make desperate efforts to come across they did, so that their child could be born in the U.S. and be a U.S. citizen. Somehow being a U.S. citizen was a very powerful motivating force for people wanting to be in the U.S. Could that search for a different culture be the real driving force behind this whole business?

    Perhaps there is something about the U.S. culture that is driving these people, whether or not the surface reason given is murder rate, violence, etc.

    Then too, I found myself thinking that since the beginning of what would become the United States of America, the only people who got in without a lot of fuss and fuming by those who were already here were those who came over on the Mayflower. Seems everybody after that (except for the slaves) was initially kept out. (And, except for the Chinese who built the railroads; but then it was only the Chinese men willing to do the dangerous work on the railroads who were allowed in, perhaps another form of slavery.)

    I find myself wondering if the children at the border are simply *this* generation’s, i.e., the parents of these children, way of getting themselves into the U.S., mistakenly thinking it will be an “easy” way into this country.

    Then too, I can’t help but think that building fences to keep people out very likely has an opposite effect on the people wanting to get in, making people figure out ways that will allow them in.

    I can’t say what the answer is. And I also appreciate the problems these individuals may bring to the U.S. in various ways. Yet, I wonder if these problems the U.S. has in any way seriously resemble the problems other countries have with refugees seeking shelter and help from war, famine, and all the other deadly problems that drive people from their own home culture. Again, I find myself thinking: If people had their “druthers” wouldn’t they rather stay in their home country where the culture is familiar and comfortable to them? Which question leads me to ask: What could the problem in the home country be that is driving the parents of these children to take such drastic measures to abandon their children at our border and uproot their children from their own culture? Perhaps if we answered this last question, we might have a clue of how to take hold of this (as we see it) problem.

    Furthermore, as I think about the various cultures over the years that have managed to come in to our country over centuries, I find that it’s the poor who are kept out (unless we need slave labor, then they are not only allowed in, they are encouraged/brought in). Has anyone ever heard of someone who is “rich” (those who come immediately to mind in this rich” category are rock stars and actors) being “kept” out? They may have to go thru all the paperwork, etc., to become citizens, but they seldom meet serious objections to their presence.

    I also wonder: If there is a serious problem of “no space” (as other countries might experience with refugees at their borders) for people wishing to enter the U.S. I wonder: If much of the problem with these abandoned children at the border is more a problem *we* have in not wanting people from the various cultures represented than anything else. I think of the various groups initially looked down upon and considered “less” worthy than “real” Americans in the past: The Irish, the Italians, the Mexicans, (who are not included in this group and who might be already considered to have a solid foothold in this country); to say nothing of how the Native American tribes already here were treated, and the Black slaves freed about 150 years ago.

    I realize I’m not taking the usual approach to this subject, but this is the one that has come to mind as I read your post.

    In fact, I wonder what the uproar over these last several years has been (all the building of fences to keep people out at the border) really is about. Is it more of the same attitude we’ve had toward new groups who wish to be U.S. citizens? Is it a definite and positive, “Oh, no, not YOU!” attitude on the part of those who already are established as Americans? Perhaps if the fence(s) were not built in the first place, the children would not be there now.

    I find myself wondering; that’s all; just a sincere wondering about this whole issue. MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — July 29, 2014 @ 6:54 pm

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