Watching the influx of unaccompanied minors crossing our southwestern border daily, a reasonable man could conclude that we are living out the fevered dreams of a dystopian novel. The United States has lost a basic aspect of sovereignty. Control over its borders is a relic of the past.
Having traversed Mexico with the help of drug cartels freely operating human trafficking networks, Central American minors are voluntarily entering the United States through the Rio Grande Valley. They’re shepherded to the border, where they cross on their own and seek apprehension by Department of Homeland Security agents, believing that minors won’t be deported.
According to Brian Bennett’s intensely reported July 5 Los Angeles Times story, U.S. Customs and Border Protection figures show that officers took fewer than 4,000 unaccompanied children from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras into custody annually for most of the last decade. Then, in fiscal year 2012, officers seized 10,146 unaccompanied minors. Last fiscal year, they took 20,805; between last October and this June 15, they nabbed 39,133. The overused word “crisis” fits the numbers—indeed, “invasion” doesn’t seem too strong. By July 8, however, the White House had downgraded the invasion from a “crisis” to a “situation.”
Many Americans are deeply disturbed by the “situation.” They resent the expenditure of resources and the appropriation of facilities for the detention of the minors. They fear the public health consequences of their dispersion, with reports reliably indicating, despite attempts to suppress the information, the presence of tuberculosis and other unwelcome conditions among them. They also suspect that the president of the United States supports the situation.
Conditions have not suddenly changed in the minors’ home countries. So far as we can tell, the cartels and their customers have a sophisticated understanding of American immigration law (it prohibits the immediate deportation of minors “other than Mexican”) and how the White House enforces it (President Obama, as he made clear in a 2012 executive order regarding illegal minors, would prefer not to). As a Cleveland immigration attorney told Bennett, “The cartels have figured out where the hole is.”
On June 30, Obama sent a letter to congressional leaders addressing the crisis. The tone was not urgent; it verged on the complacent. He invoked “root causes,” and they had nothing to do with his own policies. He indicated that he would seek additional statutory authority to deal with unaccompanied minors from noncontiguous countries like Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, but offered no specifics; by last week, according to sources cited by the Associated Press, he had withdrawn the suggestion.
He did, however, follow through on his warning that he would request additional funding to support the detained minors; he asked for emergency funding in the amount of $3.7 billion. It does not appear that these funds will be dedicated to securing the border itself. As Byron York commented in the Washington Examiner, the funding request provided as “clear an indication as any that removal of the thousands who have already come here illegally is unlikely to happen in any significant numbers.”
Also on June 30, Obama met at the White House with over a dozen “immigration advocates” and promised more in the way of executive action to extend amnesty to illegal aliens. At the meeting, according to Major Garrett’s July 3 National Journal report, Obama “became unplugged on immigration, took his temper off mute, shook up the underlying base politics of the next two elections, and turned up to boil his long-simmering feud with Republicans over the constitutional limits of executive power.”
Breitbart’s Brandon Darby last week revealed a leaked DHS report, dated June 3, that indicates the role the administration’s nonenforcement policy has played in the crisis: It identifies “successful migration attempts” as a substantial contributing factor.
The July 6 appearance of Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson on Meet the Press strongly suggested that the current crisis would result in more such “successful migration attempts.” Johnson’s evasive responses to host David Gregory’s questions were illuminating.
Gregory asked: “I know there’s a process they have to go through. Will most of these children that we have seen in this desperate situation stay in America, or will they be returned to their homes in Central America?” Johnson responded: “There’s a deportation proceeding that is commenced against illegal migrants, including children. We are looking at ways to create additional options for dealing with the children in particular, consistent with our laws and our values.”
Gregory tried again: “I’m trying to get an answer to: Will most of them end up staying, in your judgment?” Johnson responded: “I think we need to find more efficient, effective ways to turn this tide around generally, and we’ve already begun to do that.”
We can infer that the answer is they’ll end up staying. (DHS did not return my call seeking clarification of Secretary Johnson’s remarks.) The United Nations has begun demanding that the Central American minors be treated as refugees.
Scheduled to attend a couple of big-buck Democratic fundraisers last week in Dallas and Austin, within shouting distance of the border, Obama declined to take a look at what’s going on with his own eyes. A White House spokesman explained that Obama already had a good grasp of the “situation,” while the president himself declared, “I’m not interested in photo-ops. I’m interested in solving the problem.” Even some Democrats didn’t buy it. “Don’t take any cameras, Mr. President, but go down there and see what we’re facing,” Texas congressman Henry Cuellar said on CNN, calling it Obama’s “Katrina moment.”
Obama was ultimately shamed into holding a couple of meetings before he flew off to a fundraiser at the home of Machete director Robert Rodriguez, where donors paid up to $32,400 to hobnob with the president and Hollywood celebrities. After the talks, which included Texas governor Rick Perry, Obama made a brief statement, arguing for “comprehensive immigration reform” and the $3.7 billion he’s requested, and filibustered responses to two questions. He said that Governor Perry had asked him to deploy the National Guard at the border, conceded that it made sense, but opposed it as a “temporary” measure. He blamed Republicans for the crisis, deriding them as opponents of negotiation and compromise. Calling his claims straw men is an insult to straw men everywhere, but the metaphor is apt. Obama’s straw men are the only force that will be deployed at the border, and they are inviting people to come on in.
Scott W. Johnson is a Minneapolis attorney and contributor to the website Power Line.