Child migrant crisis requires quick action, long-term solutions

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Although the media and the public are transfixed by the current coverage of the arrival of tens of thousands of unaccompanied children at our Texas border in the last few weeks, this sudden crisis is not really “sudden.” It has been methodically growing for more than two years.

Its genesis was predictable, and its root causes well-known to those who have been paying attention to what has been happening to our south: increasing violent crime in Central America, where significant territories are actually dominated by narco-traffickers and violent gangs. Our border is just the final destination of a well-concocted effort by organized crime in Central America to extort families into paying to turn over their children to smugglers and traffickers with promises of a better life.

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Some of the children are sent to reunite with their parents and relatives in the United States, from whom they have been separated for years. But because of our broken immigration system, even though they are in deportation proceedings, the status of the children and their parents remains in limbo. These are the children of our agricultural workers, house cleaners, construction workers and landscapers.

The president and Congress are now discussing a fix to this crisis. However, there is no such thing as a quick fix without a comprehensive solution. 

This challenge can only be addressed by a combination of better border security, mandatory employment verification, legal visas to handle our economy’s demand for workers and appropriate family reunification. In other words, we need a clear and rational immigration system that can allow people to know the rules and follow them — and not to be subject to rumors and misrepresentation by criminal organizations. 

We also need a resolution to the violence in Central America that has driven this current exodus of children. The United States should work with international refugee organizations and other allies to do what we have done in other parts of the world where people are displaced by violence: set up processing facilities and put together a multinational response to help the refugees. We also need to assist these nations to combat violence and approve a wide-ranging effort, such as Plan Colombia to bring more stability to the region, and work with Mexico to secure its southern border.

Otherwise, whether we spend 2, 4, or 6 billion dollars now, the problem will only worsen. 

In the meantime, these are minor children who have literally been on a terrifying odyssey of 3-4 weeks to arrive, through no choice of their own, at our border. They are hungry, scared, many are sick and deserve our compassion and care until our leaders can decide on solutions to this critical problem. If the law permits an expedited, safe and humane return of these children, then we should do so accompanied by a strong statement from the president that will signal to communities in Central America that their children will be returned. If they are eligible for our protection, then we should give it to them.

Congress is considering legislation requested by the president. Our policymakers have an opportunity to work together now to build trust and lay the foundation for immigration reform that can address these issues more broadly in the future.

 

Cardenas is a senior partner at Squire Patton Boggs, LLP, and former chairman of the American Conservative Union. He is a member of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Immigration Task Force.