Perspective: the fact that a “refugee” can walk to our border does not make him more deserving of asylum than other sufferers around the world.
Now, with an unmanageable flow of underage, unaccompanied illegal immigrants overwhelming US facilities near the border, the Obama administration is thinking about screening thousands of children and young adults in Honduras to determine if they may warrant refugee status, and spare them the dangerous, illegal trek through Guatemala and Mexico to reach our borders. The idea is not only humanitarian; it also aims to slow the flow of underage migrants to our borders.
It’s a bad idea.
My first reaction is: isn’t this how immigration is supposed to work in the first place? The foreign citizen goes to the US Embassy in his country, applies for a visa, is evaluated by the State Department, and then the visa is either granted, or not?
My next thought is: if we’re not planning on letting a whole lot more Hondurans into the US soon… and it seems that the administration is considering exactly that… then asking them to come apply for refugee status will be just as effective as the usual visa application system, which is to say, NOT. If someone wants asylum and it’s not granted by our Embassy in Tegucigalpa, well… there’s still always the trek across Mexico, and our 2008 law on Trafficking in Persons that ensures that minors who reach our borders will be entitled to a hearing before they can be deported (conveniently for them, it is a very lengthy process).
My third thought is: what makes Honduras so special? First off, El Salvador and Guatemala have also contributed much to the spike in unaccompanied minors flooding the US border. Secondly, I hear the stories about out-of-control gang violence in those countries, but the dangers posed to Honduran children are not greater than, say, being a girl in India, where female infanticide, neglect, sexual assaults, rape, honor killings and bride burnings are all too common; or living in Iraq or Afghanistan or Pakistan, where suicide bombings indiscriminately kill dozens of innocents every year, in places like markets or movie theaters or mosques. Gang violence in Honduras is not worse than, say, the kidnapping of hundreds of schoolgirls into an unknown fate in Nigeria, or the ongoing practice of conscripting young children to be soldiers in Syria, Somalia, Sudan and elsewhere.
The Governor of Massachusetts called for admitting the migrant children to the US, comparing their plight to that of the St. Louis in 1939: 937 Jews fleeing persecution in Nazi Germany were refused entry to Cuba and then to the United States, were forced to sail back to Europe, and eventually many ended up dying in Hitler’s concentration camps. While Governor Patrick’s plea is passionate, Honduras is not Nazi Germany. No, a more apt comparison would be North Korea, where we have done nothing at all about the estimated 30 North Korean labor camps, which have existed 12 times longer than any Nazi concentration camp did, and twice as long as the Soviet gulags. Entire families – multiple generations – are born, live and die in these hell holes, ignorant of the outside world. Are those victims not as deserving as the Hondurans?
Granted, all of the countries I have just mentioned are far away, but when we are talking about the ethics and morality of humanitarian crises and refugee status, is distance the criterion we use? Are we so concerned about the Hondurans only because here they are, right in our faces, sitting in our immigration detention centers and being farmed out to our local communities and schools (to the worry and outrage of some states and cites)?
The fact that a “refugee” can walk to our border makes them a more immediate issue for us, but it does not make them more deserving of asylum than any other sufferers throughout the world. The irony is that the 2008 trafficking law that may be contributing to the current glut of underage illegal immigrants is written in recognition of that very fact: it excludes children from Mexico or Canada, because they directly border the US. If the law were written purely from an ethical standpoint with no pragmatism at all, then Mexican and Canadian child immigrants would have exactly the same protections as any other child immigrant reaching our borders. They don’t because we already knew that we simply don’t have the resources to handle the numbers involved.
Well, we also don’t have the resources to handle the numbers involved in the current glut. The 2008 law was written with all the best intentions and all the worst foresight. Time to amend it and close this avenue of approach – immediately.
Maybe the kids who have already arrived should be processed under the law as it currently exists; but to direct the State Department to proactively interview young people in Honduras, essentially to go looking for refugees to bring to the US, is sheer folly. Honduras is not a special case.