Last week several Republican Senators, including Senators Flake, McCain, and Cornyn, have announced the introduction of legislation addressing the humanitarian crisis along our Southern Border as youth from Central America continue to flee from drug and gang-related violence in their home countries. Unfortunately, these bills seek to fix the crisis by narrowing due process protections for unaccompanied minors from “noncontiguous” countries and to quickly repatriate them.
The Obama Administration is currently grappling with the problem of how to care for and protect the large numbers of child migrants now sitting in detention centers and other facilities awaiting processing. The larger issue is determining the appropriate government response to insure the security of our Southern border while permitting the entry of those juveniles who would qualify for status under existing law and in accordance with our ideals as a country with a history and tradition of welcoming immigrants who have nowhere left to turn.
The knee-jerk reaction of many is understandable — “send a message” to parents that if their children are caught entering the United States illegally they will most likely be deported, assuming they are lucky enough to survive the ordeal of getting here. But I see a difference between “sending a message” and shouting in a forest. Taking a hard line position on the issue of illegal migration may temporarily stoke a patriotic fervor, but when it comes to resolving a humanitarian crisis and averting future ones, the principles underlying due process should not be sacrificed lest the basis for that fervor also becomes lost.
While the bills which have been proposed to address the situation are unacceptable to the extent that they facilitate deportation of migrants from Central America on the same terms as their counterparts from Canada or Mexico, one promising aspect of Senators Flake and McCain’s proposal is the allocation of 5,000 refugee visas each for El Salvador, Honduras, and Ecuador. The notion that individuals with bona fide claims of persecution can process their cases in third countries and thereby avoid making the perilous journey northward exemplifies sound immigration policy. It does not mean that the United States can shirk its international obligation to avoid returning people to a place where they will be harmed, but it would at least promise refugees a legal and humane alternative to putting their lives in the hands of human smugglers.
Timothy D. Widman is a Immigration Attorney and the owner of the Law Office of Timothy D. Widman, with offices in San Jose and Cupertino.