Anti-immigrant organizations and mainstream media have devoted much attention to the increase in numbers of migrant children crossing the US-Mexico border. On June 2, the Associated Press reported: “In the past eight months, 47,000 unaccompanied children have been apprehended along the border in the U.S. Southwest.” Last week, President Obama called the situation a humanitarian crisis, and ordered FEMA to coordinate relief efforts for young migrants.
Misinformation and political opportunism abounds.
The anti-immigrant spin machine is actively distorting this crisis and using it for its own ends.The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), flagship organization of the anti-immigrant movement, used this crisis to drum up support – and donations – in emails sent yesterday and today. Other components of the nativist spin machine are framing the problem as a failure to enforce immigration laws, and an excess of generosity, arguing, as always for more enforcement and closed borders.
This time, they’re getting a fair bit of traction. Conservative and mainstream media alike are picking up on the dehumanizing language of a “flood” or “tidal wave” of immigrant children. This natural disaster metaphor frames the crisis not as one that threatens these young people themselves – who have escaped horrible conditions and made a perilous journey – but one that threatens the place they land – where these supposed waves crash. This fear-mongering dovetails neatly with Jan Brewer’s recent claims that the administration is “dumping” immigrants in Arizona, as if these human beings are nothing but trash.
Such dehumanizing rhetoric has no place in public discourse. We must expose the lies and manipulations of the nativist movement, and their efforts to insert their bigotry into this urgent conversation.
Below are three ways the anti-immigrant movement is spinning this humanitarian crisis – and why they’re wrong.
Myth 1: Children are coming across the border because of lax enforcement of immigration law.
Example: On Saturday, a columnist for the Los Angeles Daily News wrote “When President Obama announced a moratorium on the deportation of children, he opened the floodgates.”
Fact: The recent increase in children crossing the border alone is the result of a humanitarian crisis in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Poverty, insecurity and increasing rates of violence have created a living hell. Youth in particular are targets of violence and are taking the extreme and calculated risk to escape.
Ev Meade, Director of the Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego explains the conditions in home countries that lead youth to make the dangerous journey to the US alone:
“In some cases these are kids whose parents have been killed or disappeared in drug violence. In other cases, and many of the cases from Honduras and El Salvador in particular, these are kids who are forcibly recruited into gangs, girls who are forced to be the “girlfriend” of a gang member, people who’ve been threatened with rape and murder, people who’ve been targeted by the police forces for an association with a gang in one of these countries, whether it’s a real association or not. Some of these kids also are fearing violence in their own homes.”
Do we really think that thousands of people got the false idea that immigration policy in the US has shifted that dramatically? The border patrol is five times the size it was in 1993. Immigrant detention and deportation have reached record levels in recent years.
Myth 2: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and the recent renewal announcement, is a magnet drawing more immigrants across the border.
Example: In a FAIR blog titled “DACA renewals launched and More are Invited In,” Jack Martin wrote of the increase in unaccompanied minors crossing the border: “there is no end in sight to this flood. Can anyone believe that this surge is unrelated to the adoption of DACA?”
Fact: Children crossing the border now do not qualify for DACA. To be eligible for deferred action, immigrants have to have arrived by and resided in the US since 2007. Instead, as a court decision earlier this week demonstrates, the deck continues to be stacked against young immigrants.
A recent report by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees found that 58% of unaccompanied minors crossing the border were forcibly displaced and qualified for special protections under international law. The report was based on interviews with over 400 young people who migrated alone.
“My grandmother wanted me to leave. She told me: ‘If you don’t join, the gang will shoot you. If you do join, the rival gang will shoot you—or the cops will shoot you. But if you leave, no one will shoot you.’” – Kevin, Honduras, Age 17
Despite their uniquely vulnerable situation, many of these young people can fall through the cracks, and there are not adequate legal protections or economic supports in place.
Myth 3: The only answer is to deport these children; the cost of keeping them here is too high.
Example: FAIR’s legislative update, published 6/4/14, included an article titled: “Obama’s DREAM to Cost Taxpayers Over $2 Billion.” Like NumbersUSA and CIS, FAIR holds up the Office of Management and Budget’s request of $2.28 billion to resettle child migrants.
“At this point in time, it is imperative that the President of the United States himself make crystal clear that the border is not open,” argued Senator Jeff Sessions, as quoted by Breitbart, “that anybody who comes to this country illegally, young or old, will be deported, will be apprehended and deported; and that he tell the whole world to not come.”
Fact: The anti-immigrant movement would like us to believe that we cannot afford to be compassionate – that we are being tricked and taken advantage of if we recognize the humanitarian crisis happening before our eyes. They are dead wrong.
Last week, John Kerry pledged an additional $290 million in aid to Syrian refugees. That brings US humanitarian aid since the Syrian civil war began to about $2 billion. Why wouldn’t we then also allocate money for refugees arriving on our own shores?
Detention and deportation are costly. Instead of spending money to deport someone to an unstable and unsafe place and trying to find their family in their home country, we can instead use resources to find a child’s nearest relative in the US. Most of those migrating have a family member here. Finding that person means that a family member can assume responsibility for the young person, and the young person can be reunited with a loved one.
We have a responsibility as a democratic country, and as a society that cares about humanitarian need. Our first priority should be to find safe places where these children can stay in the US. It is not only the right thing to do, but it is also the practical thing to do.
We must prioritize the safety and rights of the young people arriving here.
Lauren Taylor is a Field Organizer at the Center for New Community.
Image source: Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America