At The Border, Migrant Crisis Tests Whether Politicians Can Translate Compassion Into Action


Outside a sterile City Hall fringed by the town’s historical artifacts, McAllen Mayor Jim Darling walks at a brisk pace with his communications director leading five paces ahead of him. His face is marked with worry as it had been for just about every day for the past two months, if not longer. Darling had just come out from a roundtable discussion with Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX), and border town mayors, and he looked concerned. Darling’s city, less than ten miles from the Mexican border, had become ground zero for the unaccompanied child migrant crisis and he had become the public face for a nation sharply divided not just on the semantics of calling these children “refugees” or “alien minors,” but also the best way to deal with these children. A lot like salesmen, Cornyn and Cuellar were at the roundtable with posters propped on easels and a Powerpoint presentation to pitch their latest proposal to send these children back to their countries as quickly as possible.

“No,” Darling told ThinkProgress as he stood exasperated outside City Hall, no, he didn’t believe that a 2012 presidential initiative known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was responsible for the current crisis. Other politicians, including prominent Texas lawmakers like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), blamed the program for directly causing children to come to the United States on the false promise of some form of “amnesty.” The DACA program grants temporary legal presence — the ability to live and work without perpetual fear of deportation — to some undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children.

“I tell a lot of youth groups, and I just say it’s kind of like the Golden Rule,” Darling said. “We treat people like we want to be treated. We have tens of thousands of people coming across the river every day. Many of our families are first, second, and third generation Hispanics and so it’s extraordinary effort for people who are doing it.”

This year alone, Border Patrol agents are expecting to apprehend about 90,000 unaccompanied child migrants crossing the southern U.S. border. More than 57,000 have already been apprehended. The Rio Grande Valley, where Darling’s town is located, is at the center of this influx. At least 42,164 migrants have already been apprehended through the Rio Grande Valley border patrol stations.

Darling is something of a unicorn among border town mayors in the Valley– he wants children to have the ability to stay after receiving a fair judicial process. Other local and congressional lawmakers from the region are less flexible about allowing children to stay in the country. In the media and to their constituents, these lawmakers representing the border are purporting to be as concerned for the well-being of these new migrants. But the policies they support would send the migrants back to their countries of origin, in many cases with little opportunity for their claims to asylum to be heard.

Response Without Repair

Less than 30 feet from two longhouse-style emergency tents staked into the parking lot of a church-turned-emergency shelter in McAllen, Texas, three lawmakers insisted that migrant families should be deported as quickly as possible. On this particular day, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Reps. Louis Gohmert (R-TX), and Randy Weber (R-TX) had just finished up a morning tour of the church facility with television and radio personality Glenn Beck. He had earlier brought in teddy bears and hot meals to hungry migrant families who made the trek into the United States. Under the sweltering sun, Beck and Cruz had a chat away from media with Sister Norma Pimentel, Executive Director of Catholic Charities, who helped set up operations on church grounds. They were there to help with relief efforts, but at the same time, to pressure the Obama administration to fix the issue.

Just the week before, Cruz refused to support the President’s emergency funding request unless the Obama administration halted expanding DACA, the program that has given some undocumented individuals who came to the United States as children the chance to live and work here.

He told ThinkProgress that DACA was responsible for the sharp uptick of unaccompanied minors crossing the border. “I agree with the President that this is a humanitarian crisis and it’s a humanitarian crisis of his making,” Cruz said. “The only way to solve this problem is to remove the promise of amnesty. … What is humane is to have a compassionate, but expedited process for returning these children back home. That is what we do with Mexico and Canada. And we should do the same with these children so that we fix this problem.”

What Cruz means is deporting kids without going through the judicial process to assess their asylum claims. One proposed bill to do this — disingenuously dubbed the HUMANE Act — would have border agents decide which kids have claims of credible fear. This is currently how the U.S. treats migrants from Mexico under an agreement between the two countries, but the system is already failing Mexican kids, who may not understand the adjudication process and are frequently unable to articulate their fear. A United Nations Human Rights Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) memo obtained by ThinkProgress found that border patrol agents operated on a “widespread bias” that Mexican children don’t really need protection; that they are not trained to interview children; that children are asked to sign a form waiving the right to appear before an immigration judge in advance of their interviews; and that they aren’t given meaningful due process.

Weber and Gohmert agreed with Cruz on policy, citing the Bible in their arguments that while individuals should help the migrants, the government should not.

They are backing proposals to tweak a 2008 trafficking law that would likely give children who are fleeing violence even less opportunity to have their cases heard. In fact, they are joining other Republican members of Congress in refusing to grant President Obama’s emergency funding request to handle the migrant influx unless the 2008 trafficking law is amended.[...]


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