Immigration has been labeled America’s most recent “crisis.” As thousands of Central American children cross the border without papers, the Left has asserted that President Obama expels far too many undocumented immigrants and the Right has complained that he doesn’t turn enough away. The accusations from both sides of the aisle have clouded public perceptions of the administration’s policies, taking attention away from what’s actually going on.
So, what’s actually happening in Washington? In early July, President Obama sent Congress a proposal for $3.7 billion to help curb the border crisis. The funds will go to a number of agencies, some with a focus on humanitarian relief ($1.8 billion is allocated to the Department of Health and Human Services) and some on enforcement ($1.1 billion will go to Immigration and Customs Enforcement). The White House’s plea to Congress is by no means perfect, but it does improve some conditions for families and minors who have been caught at the border. To no one’s surprise, however, the Republican-led House of Representatives opposes it. In response to Obama’s bill, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) are proposing a bill that would essentially make it easier to deport unaccompanied Central American children. Basically, the bill would ensure that minors will have a hearing in immigration court within the first seven days of being apprehended, to determine whether they have a legal claim to stay in the United States . A determination would be made within 72 hours of the hearing on whether the child is granted asylum or immediately sent home. This proposal aims to speed up a system backlogged with cases by treating the minors from Central America with the same standards a 2008 law set for minors from Mexico and Canada. If this bill passes, thousands of children will be asked to articulate their situations and the conditions of their home countries to strange judges. Many will be without legal representation, as there are not enough pro bono lawyers to go around. However, with their Senate majority under threat in November’s midterm elections, many Democrats are running for the middle and backing the bill. The Obama administration, too, has said it could support the measure. Charles M. Blow may have best summed up the situation in his July 16 column for the New York Times: This is not the best face of a great nation. This is the underside of a great stone, which when lifted sends creepy things slithering in all directions. We are better than this. We are more compassionate than this. We are more honorable than this.
Joshua Rosenblat is a Summer 2014 In These Times intern.