The Oklahoman: Influx of Central American kids underscores broken U.S. immigration system

Jun 13, 2014 Issues: Immigration

The Oklahoman - Editorial Board

Over the course of this year, as many as 90,000 minors fleeing crime- and poverty-ridden Central American countries could be given haven in the United States. Few will ever return to their homeland, prompting U.S. Rep. Tom Cole to say this week: “We need to have some frank policy discussions.”

Indeed we do. Central to those talks — shouts? — will be President Barack Obama’s 2012 executive order that some Republicans contend is the reason for the surge of children and teens, mostly from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. The order allowed deferred deportation of those who had entered the United States illegally as children.

Although the deferred action was for minors who had arrived in this country by 2007, the rapid increase in youngsters flowing across the Southern border began after Obama’s policy change. In 2012, the number of children received into a program run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services increased over the prior several years’ average. Then came a major jump in 2013, to nearly 25,000. The total this year is expected to exceed 66,000 and could approach 90,000.

On Fox News this week, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach said these young illegal immigrants don’t try to evade law enforcement. Instead, they surrender to U.S. border agents because smugglers have told them “they won’t deport you under Obama’s policy.”

HHS provides the young immigrants health care, socialization, vocational training and access to legal advice, among other services. Cole says U.S. policy regarding these minors is to find them a sponsor, such as a family member or friend, so they can remain in the country.

Several hundred will soon arrive at Fort Sill. Eventually, as many as 1,200 could be housed there, something that’s drawn criticism from Gov. Mary Fallin, U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe and other Oklahoma Republicans.

Cole, R-Moore, isn’t a fan of using military installations in this way. He says the policy endangers children while encouraging criminal activity. Organized crime syndicates, he noted, are selling the idea that this is a good time to flee. They charge several thousand dollars per child to get them to the border.

“Right now we’re telling the world if you’re other than a Mexican and you’re an unaccompanied minor, we’re taking you in,” Cole said. “And it subjects these kids … to a great deal of danger.”

Obama administration officials argue the policy isn’t the problem. Instead, they point to violence in these Central American countries. U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., blamed “violence, the cartels and drugs” for the influx. The “insatiable appetite that America has for drugs” was creating the unrest in these Central American countries, Gutierrez said.

He also said Congress should separate this issue from the overall debate over immigration reform. On that front he might find common ground with Cole. “We could adopt the comprehensive (immigration) bill that passed the Senate and it wouldn’t change this,” Cole said.

Fair enough, although this episode offers a reminder of just how dysfunctional our overall immigration system has become. Both political parties share in the blame. Both need to get serious about finding a workable solution.

Online: The Oklahoman