They’re children after all

I have found myself conflicted lately with the immigration problem. I wonder, is it time to close the door in the faces of hungry and frightened children who risk their lives to come into our country where they can be fed, clothed and made to feel safe?

Is it time to stand guard at the southern border of the United States with soldiers carrying guns in order to keep out the unwanted child? Is it time to stop the mayhem that we, as a country, are facing due to a lack of cooperation in Washington?

Some may answer yes to the above questions, but I believe that while the first two pull at our heartstrings, the last one is the real problem.

We currently have more than 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S., and over 72,000 children have come since the last quarter of 2013. People are rioting and holding up signs refusing to allow the illegal immigrants to stay in their cities, and the President is sending buses to the border to transport them to holding centers. Both parties in Washington are bickering about the $3.7 billion Obama has requested to help deal with this problem, and yet there is no action on immigration reform.

The Washington Post reported last week that Josh Earnest, White House Press Secretary said, “There are significant resources that are required to deal with the situation. What we would like are some additional resources to make sure that we’re enforcing the law efficiently, both in terms of processing them through the immigration system, but also in terms of repatriating them if it’s found that they don’t have a legal basis for remaining in the country.”

Obama sent a letter to Congress detailing a request for 2014 alone in the amount of $879 million in additional funding to detain and deport illegal immigrant families, $116 million to transport unaccompanied children, and $522 million for more law enforcement both on the border and in Central America.

Additionally, he is asking for $1.8 billion for the Health and Human Services Department to house the children awaiting immigration court hearings; $300 million for the State Department to create better economic and security conditions in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador; and $64 million for the Justice Department to hire more immigration judges.

Let’s take a look at this. It can take up to five years to determine whether the illegal immigrant should stay, or be repatriated. In the meantime, who pays for their housing, food, clothing, education and just plain living expenses? The federal government has already purchased games for the illegal immigrant children to keep them entertained and occupied. And, the Obama administration now says it will take considerably more just to clothe, feed, transport, house and, yes, entertain the children surging across the border. Even members of his own party are coming out against the President’s plan.

And then we have the immigration rights advocates. They want the money spent not on securing the border or repatriation, but on lawyers hired to represent the children. Really!?!? We should hire lawyers. Will that be one lawyer for each child, a prestigious law firm to handle a class action suit, or just a hotshot attorney out to make a name for himself? Can’t the immigration department handle this without additional out of pocket expenses?

Admittedly, this is not an easy issue. When we put the face of a child who is hungry, dirty and crying on this problem, it tends to muddy the waters a bit. We have children right here in this country who are hungry, dirty and crying. Shouldn’t we be taking care of them first? Shouldn’t we be putting our efforts on our citizen children and not allowing others to come in and take their places? They’re all children, after all.

The administration has said it will continue to ask for changes in the current law (which was put into place by President George W. Bush) allowing for an expedited deportation of children from Central America. Right now, the law allowing for a quicker deportation of children is reserved for those from Canada and Mexico. We have all seen, however, that any action on the part of Congress to do anything on this issue seems more like a fairy tale than reality.

Even with this latest request by President Obama, his administration has acknowledged that their enforcement has fallen short of goal, and the number of children removed is not large enough. So what’s needed more money? Money for additional detention spaces, more judges to speed up the processing time, health and human services concerns and housing for these 70,000-plus illegal children from Central America who have crossed our border in just the last several months.

But alas, they are children after all. Do we have room for them in this land of plenty? Is there room in our cities, villages, towns, our homes, our hearts? The illegal immigration problem affects us all, one way or another. Congress needs to act, the border needs to be secured, and those who enter the country illegally need to be repatriated; I get that. But I can’t look away from the face of a child in need. The questions have me searching for answers. Illegal is illegal, but they are children who are hungry, dirty, and frightened. I am generally known to be a fairly pragmatic individual, but in this situation I find myself asking, is illegal really illegal, and what would Jesus do?

Have a Great Day.

Vicki Westling is a Dunkirk resident. Send comments to editorial@observertoday.com