To which Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and others increasingly are saying: No, tanks.
It didn't get a lot of attention, but Pence learned that the federal government had placed 245 unaccompanied alien children in the state he supposedly leads only after the media reported it.
“Only (then) did the state receive notice from the Department of Health and Human Services,” Pence stated in a letter to President Obama. “I have been informed that HHS will only provide monthly updated numbers . . . during the first week of each month. This is unacceptable. While we feel deep compassion for these children, our country must secure its borders and provide for a legal and orderly immigration process.” Sen. Dan Coats, also a Republican, echoed Pence's concerns.
Insanely, such talk is too often dismissed as heartless, xenophobic and even racist. The president, in fact – who refused to address immigration reform when his Democratic Party controlled Congress – now says he will unilaterally to address the issue because the deeply divided Congress has failed to act. But such a usurpation of power would be not only unconstitutional, but would exacerbate a crisis any caring, rational person would try to prevent.
It should go without saying – but apparently needs to be said – that American politicians' first duty is to Americans, not Guatemalans, Salvadorans, Hondurans, Mexicans or any other nationality. The fact that the vast majority of people in the U.S. illegally are Hispanics adds an unfortunate (and irrelevant) racial and cultural aspect to the debate, but warnings issued by Pence and others would be true even if all the overwhelmingly poor and uneducated people streaming across the Rio Grande were from Germany or anyplace else.
“Indiana will be responsible for the costs of education for these unaccompanied children, and perhaps other costs related o their health and welfare . . . school officials need accurate information about unaccompanied children who will potentially be placed in their classrooms.”
Added Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, whose state was given no notice before a busload of children was brought to an Army base: “I, too, want to help these children . . . (but) one in four Oklahoma children are struggling with hunger. One in four will drop out of high school . . . Oklahomans are not equipped to solve problems in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, just as we are not equipped to end conflicts or suffering in he Ukraine or Syria. Oklahomans must get back to the business of helping our own children.”
Does that sound selfish, even cruel? Americans themselves seem deeply divided on the issue, with 53 percent telling a recent Associated Press poll that the U.S. does not have a moral obligation to grant refugee status to the children, with 44 insisting it does.
To qualify for asylum, applicants must prove they suffered or have a legitimate fear of persecution on the basis of race, religion, nationality or social group – conditions that doe not seem present despite the long-term chaos in Central America. What's more, the federal law often cited by those supporting acceptance of unaccompanied children from Central America does not apply to those who already have relatives here.
With largely unreported accounts of murder, rape and other forms of violence experienced by people crossing the border, and serious crimes committed by those already here (a Border Patrol officer allegedly was murdered just this week by two Mexican nationals who had been previously detained and released), the need to control who enters the country clearly transcends money and politics.
Those who defend illegality and open borders invoking the nation's immigrant past are either fools or charlatans. Emma Lazarus' famous poem does indeed beckon the tired, poor and huddled masses yearning to breathe free, but its placement on the Statue of Liberty was no accident:
Ellis Island, the intake and screening center for legal immigrants, was also in New York Harbor.
America should indeed have a generous immigration policy – one that is in the country's best interest, and vigorously enforced. Border chaos, as Pence noted, “thwarts the rule of law and will only continue to send a distorted message that illegally crossing into America is without consequence.”
That's not quote true, of course. Some politicians, special-interest groups and others clearly hope to benefit. But no one should ever benefit from ignoring the law, or be vilified for enforcing it.
And so Pence was right: America can show the most compassion, to the most people, by treating these children humanely while they're here, then reuniting them with their families as quickly as possible – in their home countries.