U.S. knows how to deal with emergencies

So much of what is wrong in the world — poverty, famine, injustice or war — cannot be fixed in the short-term. Occasionally, though, the crisis arises that can be dispatched quickly. We would put the humanitarian mess taking place on the U.S. border with Mexico as a crisis that needs to be, and can be, fixed.

The United States knows how to deal with emergencies and displaced people — witness our country’s response to tornadoes, hurricanes and other disasters.

The larger immigration problem, of course, is likely not able to be resolved any time soon.

The reality is that people in need of work, fleeing violence or escaping political unrest will keep coming to the United States. When those refugees are children, however, the U.S. must take special care. We must not round them up and warehouse them as if they were cattle awaiting slaughter.

Just because the country has been unprepared for the rush of children — some 47,000 have been caught on the border since late last year — does not mean we cannot do better by them. Photos of children piled on top of each other in a barren room appear as though they were taken in refugee camps in the Middle East. Instead, they are from the Southwest border.

It’s our shame and cannot be allowed to continue. U.S. law requires that children who are not from Mexico be taken into custody, screened and then transferred to the Office of Refugee Resettlement. That office, run through the Department of Health and Human Services, is supposed to find a relative to take the child or place the child in long-term foster care. It’s a system built for about 8,000 refugees, not 50,000. No wonder it is overwhelmed.

Congress must approve a $1.4 billion emergency appropriation to help these children. And more money will be needed because evidently, that appropriation does not include funds to pay immigration judges to hear the cases. The process will not be fast, because many of the children who were caught at the border might be eligible for refugee status; those cases are processed differently.

The U.S. also must work with their home countries to try and keep the children with their parents, where they belong. But no parent wants to raise children in a world where murders and gang crimes are daily facts of life. That is why they are sending their children away, to the promise of safety.
The immigrants are streaming north from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, many children believing if they come alone they will find sanctuary in the United States. (Those myths should be dispelled back in the countries of origin, perhaps with a radio campaign explaining that children cannot stay just because of their age.)

In the meantime, the children must be fed and housed in humane conditions. This is a crisis, but one that can be sorted out — at least in terms of how the children are being held — in short order. Put the best minds on it.

— The Santa Fe New Mexican