Border kids deserve refuge

Published 10:55 am Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Despite what politicians say, the border crisis is not an immigration problem or a border security problem.

We’ve got all those problems, but this ain’t that. These kids — these tired, poor, huddled masses — are not economic migrants. They — these homeless, tempest tossed to us — are seeking refuge from violent gangs and corrupt cops in Central America.

If we deal with the problem that exists instead of having the fight politicians want, then we can do some good.

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First, we can handle these children. Most of them have family in the United States, and if you think a country of 313 million can’t absorb 52,000 children — if you think we can’t afford to lift the lamp by the golden door — then you are as bad at America as you are at math.

Instead, Barack Obama wants to send them home, and Republicans are yelling at him to speed it up. How violent are things where these children are running from? According to the UN, in 2012 El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras were twice as dangerous for civilians as Iraq was at the height of the war.

If you have to come to Texas to get away from men with guns, then you’re from a very dangerous place. These kids deserve refuge.

But we can’t open our arms to refugees without dealing with the violence that drove them here, so our leaders are not only going to have to find their lost decency but start using their brains.

We could all stop using the illegal drugs that fund the gangs and corruption in Central America, but that would require Americans to act smarter. Or we could legalize the drugs and remove the profit motive, but that would require our leaders to be smarter.

No, this will require us to find the rarest of solutions, the workable one.

We can do this. If we can demand political reforms in exchange for security in Iraq, then we can do the same thing for a crisis in our own hemisphere.

And if we can get Syria to destroy its chemical weapons and Iran to dilute its cache of highly enriched uranium — all without firing a shot — then we can probably leverage our trade agreements to find a diplomatic solution.

Here’s an idea: What if we used our trade agreements to help stabilize that region? El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras are parties to the Dominican Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement, better known as CAFTA.

That region is our 14th-largest export market in the world and the third-largest in Latin America behind Mexico and Brazil. Next year, all tariffs on U.S. exports to that region will be lifted, and that’s our leverage.

For once, the interests of poor folks in Central America and American business are aligned. This is a perfect opportunity for the United States to show how soft power — diplomacy, public-private partnerships, trade, and foreign aid — can carry the day.

Unfortunately, congressman Randy Weber (R-Texas) thinks cutting off foreign aid is the answer to the border crisis, even though his bill, the Illegal Entry Accountability Act, would probably only increase northward migration.

Also from the “If the president won’t act, then I will” school of foreign relations is our Dear Leader, Rick Perry. The Governor’s decision to send 1,000 troops to the border is a total Perry move, calibrated to win the hearts of Iowa Republican activists but blind to the reality of the problem in Texas.

It’s hard to see how militarizing the border will facilitate a more efficient distribution of Pedialyte to the border kids, but then Perry has been posing with more assault weapons than border children lately, and slogans such as “Love thy neighbor” or “Suffer little children, forbid them not” don’t poll well among Iowa Republicans.

He has come a long way from the guy who signed the Texas DREAM Act.

Pointing guns at children and threatening our neighbors might be good politics when you’re running for president, but the wretched refuse will keep showing up on our teeming border until we deal with the real problem.

To deal with the border kids, our politicians are going to have to grow up.


Jason Stanford is a regular contributor to the Austin American-Statesman, a Democratic consultant and a Truman National Security Project partner. You can email him at and follow him on Twitter @JasStanford.