DALLAS — From a distance, the political arguments over this border crisis might look and feel much like the same immigration story we’ve heard for years — a story about people crossing our border illegally looking for work.
But, in many cases, the unaccompanied children now coming here from Central America are under 6 years old. A 6 year old is not here looking for work. So, you have to unravel the strands of the story for a better understanding of what’s happening now and the factors that make this a crisis
Let’s start with the politics of securing the border. Gov. Rick Perry is demanding that President Barack Obama's administration send more agents to keep people from crossing.
"What has to be addressed is the security of the border," he said recently on a news program called This Week. "You know that. I know that. The president of the United States knows that. I don’t believe he particularly cares whether or not the border of the United States is particularly secure."
More officers on the border, would that even help? No, says Susan Page, Washington Bureau Chief for USA Today.
"The problem is these kids are running toward border agents, right?" she told WFAA. "They get over the border and what they want to do is get picked up so the process can begin. So, I think everyone is talking about solutions other than the problem then what we face right now."
The same can be said of comprehensive immigration reform, a legislative initiative that Obama continues to push for.
"We’re going to have to fix our immigration system which is broken and pass common sense, immigration reform,” Obama said recently.
"The comprehensive immigration bill that the Senate worked out last year does not address this problem,” Page said. "It doesn’t deal with the question of unaccompanied immigration of Central American children coming over the border. No, it wouldn’t address this problem at all ."
Aside from politics, what makes this crisis different—what’s at its heart—are questions of morality. And it’s a question that looks different on both sides of the border.
On the north side, it’s a somewhat simpler question. There are 50,000 unaccompanied children from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador housed in cramped, jail-like conditions. Charities, like St. Vincent de Paul, are mobilizing to help.
Why are they doing that?
"Our obligation would be for the children, or for anybody, as a human being, to provide care, comfort and assistance," said Kathryn Wohlander, with Society of St. Vincent DePaul in Dallas. “I think as human beings it is one of the most basic values that we have."
The toughest moral question is really south of our border. Gang violence and poverty are rampant in parts of Central America. But, no matter how awful the conditions, escaping crime and poverty are not legal reasons for a child to stay in America.
Rick Halperin, a human rights expert at SMU, says the only legitimate reason is fear of repression by your own government.
"But even if it’s one person who reaches this country, this country has a legal and moral obligation to help that person and not send him or her back to the origin of his or her country where they faced repression or death,” Halperin said.
Does that mean that America must let in 50,000 other immigrants even if it turns out they don’t have valid claims to stay? Halperin says yes.
“If those 50,000 people are to be detained and held for 'X' amount of years until a judge hears their case and sends them back it's frustrating," Halperin said. "It's not the emotional answer that people feel we have to have, but that is our legal and moral obligation."
The moral way to keep Central American kids from flooding our borders, Halperin says, is for the US to help ease the hardships in those countries that cause kids to flee to ours. But, that would require politicians to act.
"I would hope the cynicism of politics or the ineptitude of party politics would not be a barrier to the American heart for people in need,” Halperin said.
That’s a sentiment that never seems to unravel.