I stood one night on the banks of the Rio Grande in Texas. I was concealed by some underbrush and accompanied by the United States Border Patrol. It didn’t take long to see a person swimming across illegally — a snapshot of America’s immigration challenges.The latest crisis at the border is a surge of children, unaccompanied minors as they are called in legal terms. Tens of thousands have been caught attempting to enter our country illegally. Some have been placed under surveillance in warehouses. Others have been released. Very few have thus far been returned home.
The border children come from Central American countries with stagnant economies and ungoverned space. Desperate poverty in the region, along with signals from the Administration about decreasing deportations, has created conditions that cause families to risk sending their children north. Young boys and girls are placed on trains or given to smugglers known as “coyotes.” Many then suffer terrible abuse, falling victim to human trafficking and sexual exploitation.
Most Nebraskans are rightfully outraged by this dramatic failure of our immigration policy. The question of how to properly care for and deal with the children is under intense debate.
From my perspective, first the President should immediately call up the National Guard to assist the Border Patrol to bring the situation under control. Second, the message needs to be clearly and continuously sent that persons arriving illegally will be quickly returned. Third, we must demand that the governments of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala set up the proper conditions for the repatriation of children and adults, ensuring their safety and humane treatment.
Once the framework is set and order is restored, we can address the exceptional needs of those who have a just reason for asylum.
The First Lady of Honduras has said we want our children back. I agree with her. Now we must fix this latest immigration problem so that children are protected and families are reunited. On one of the committees I have served, we have already begun working on the proper procedures for repatriation and stopping the flow.
America has always had a vibrant immigration system, welcoming people who are facing political persecution or dire hardship, seeking a new life with their families. But chaos and disorder at our border harms our country’s ability to be generous and is not fair to those who follow the law.