Congressional hearing on children fleeing violence highlights lack of empathy

Jill Garvey • Jun 25, 2014

While immigration hardliners have attempted to spin an escalating humanitarian crisis into an issue of border enforcement, the reality is that it has much more to do with foreign policy, the U.S.’s commitment to child welfare and its willingness to adhere to international protection protocols. Children are fleeing violence and extreme poverty in Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico and El Salvador at a rate that has shocked many Americans and caught the Obama Administration and lawmakers of all stripes by surprise.

A report from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which surveyed 404 unaccompanied or separated children from Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico and El Salvador, reveals that “no less than 58% of the children interviewed were forcibly displaced because they suffered or faced harms that indicated a potential or actual need for international protection.”

The UNHCR report defines international protection as “the responsibility of States to protect their citizens, but when Governments are unwilling or unable to protect their citizens or others who reside in their territory, individuals may suffer such serious violations of their rights that they are forced to leave their homes and often even their families to seek safety in another country. Because, by definition, the Governments of their home countries no longer protect the basic rights of these individuals, the international community must step in to ensure that those basic rights, as articulated in numerous international and regional instruments, are respected.”

Now the hardliners and a cadre of their supporters are further diverting attention from a humanitarian response and using the crisis to bash the Administration in the hopes that it will back off executive relief for individuals living in the U.S. without documentation.

Today, the House Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing entitled “An Administration-Made Disaster: The South Texas Border Surge of Unaccompanied Alien Minors.” It features a deck of witnesses stacked with individuals that are affiliated with influential anti-immigrant groups like FAIR, NumbersUSA and Center for Immigration Studies. Chris Crane, President of a small union representing ICE deportation agents, is among those testifying.

What Crane likely won’t be discussing is his chummy relationship with the aforementioned anti-immigrant groups.

  • In 2013, Crane published a letter denouncing support for immigration reform. FAIR and NumbersUSA republished the letter and urged their supporters to call Congressional members in response and ask them to oppose renewed efforts at an immigration reform deal.
  • In 2012, Crane was the plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging DACA. Kris Kobach represented Crane and nine other ICE agents in the case, and the lawsuit was financially supported by NumbersUSA. The case was dismissed by a federal judge on July 31, 2013.
  • Crane attended FAIR’s 2013 Hold Their Feet to the Fire radio event. During the event Crane also participated in a press conference with Sen. Jeff Sessions and other law enforcement officials.
  • Crane has previously testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee (SJC) including a February 2013 hearing on comprehensive immigration reform. Other witnesses at that hearing included Jessica Vaughan of Center for Immigration Studies. Another SJC hearing in April 2013 featured testimony from Crane along with CIS’ Steven Camarota and Janice Kephart. Crane has also testified seven times before the full House Judiciary Committee and Immigration Subcommittee dating back to November 2011.

Another witness slated to testify is Brandon Judd.

  • On June 20, The Washington Post quoted National Border Patrol Council (NCPC) President Judd defending a controversial NBPC tweet. “Nothing in there was racist,” he claimed, it only “emphasize[d] that we can’t do our jobs. Forty percent of our agents have been pulled from the field to babysit, clean cells, change diapers. We’re actually making burritos. That’s not our job. Our job is to protect the border.”
  • Judd appeared in a 2010 video produced by Center for Immigration Studies in which he discusses how the Border Patrol lacks sufficient manpower to effectively patrol areas surrounding the border and nearby checkpoints.
  • In 2011, Judd was quoted discussing wildfires in Southern Arizona and told The Arizona Daily Star, “We definitely believe that the majority of these fires are started by illegal aliens.”

Ahead of the hearing, NumbersUSA sent an action alert to its members instructing them to send emails to representatives bemoaning the Obama administration housing “illegal aliens in communities around the country.” Translation: Let’s not provide shelter to children escaping violence.

Exploiting the plight of children running from violence is a shameful ploy, but certainly not above anti-immigrant lawmakers and beltway groups whose main objective is to ensure that millions remain mired in financial and emotional turmoil. That even children – children in dire situations at that – are not safe from the ugly rhetoric of the anti-immigrant lobby shouldn’t be lost on the American people.

Jill Garvey is the Executive Director of the Center for New Community and the Publisher of Imagine 2050.

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