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Murrieta protesters oversimplify a complex immigration crisis

Smugglers and organized crime profit from moving Central American children north

The unwillingness of the House of Representatives to discuss immigration reform — let alone actually pass a bill — has left the debate in the hands of a crowd of screaming hotheads in Murrieta, Calif., who show no inclination to let facts get in the way of their paranoia about brown-skinned hordes subverting the America they revere.

Not that the United States does not have a genuine problem along the southern border. Just when rates of illegal crossings from Mexico had dropped precipitously due to the dearth of jobs for adult migrants, a flood of thousands of children from Central America has overwhelmed the resources of the Border Patrol and capacity of immigration courts.

The protesters in Murrieta say there’s a simple solution: Send them back! They neither understand the law nor the complexity of the situation. Unsurprisingly, they are being fed their facts by Rush Limbaugh and other right-wing ranters on talk radio and Fox News who portray the whole thing as part of the liberal Democrats’ heinous plan to change the very nature of American society. 

At least one woman who testified at a public hearing about the immigration crisis in Murrieta last week seems to have been drinking the conservative Kool-aid. She blubbered and wept as she spoke of President Obama’s scheme to destroy the country by opening the border to aliens.

The real Obama, meanwhile, is a bit flummoxed as he tries to figure out what to do about this latest immigration quandary. The steady march of kids from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador appears to be inspired by a perception in those countries that children need only get across the border and they will be allowed to stay in the U.S. The Obama administration sent Vice President Joe Biden to Central America to tell everyone to stay home because that perception is false.

Except it isn’t, and that’s the real problem. 

As the Los Angeles Times has reported, fewer than 4,000 unaccompanied children were apprehended annually by U.S. border agents through most of the last decade, but, in fiscal year 2012, the number jumped to 10,146. In fiscal year 2013, it shot up to 20,805 and in the eight months from last October to this June 15 the total of Central American kids arriving without legal status hit 39,133.

So, what’s really going on? Apparently, it has a lot to do with a federal law passed on a voice vote in 2008 by big, bipartisan majorities in Congress and signed by President George W. Bush. The well-meaning act aimed to protect young victims of sex trafficking and slavery by establishing legal protections that would keep immigrant juveniles from being sent back into the clutches of pimps and drug gangs.

Now, though, smugglers who make a great deal of money moving children over the border appear to be coaching at least some of the kids to say the right things to officials so they can take advantage of the law’s protections. Many others have truly been victimized, of course. Sorting out whose story is real and whose is false is just one of the tasks facing asylum officers, immigration judges and prosecutors.

While their cases slog slowly through the system, most of the Central American children are sent to stay with relatives in the U.S. — and years pass by. 

Liberals and immigrant rights groups have taken to calling these children “refugees” who deserve shelter and they scorn the Murrieta protesters for their ugly lack of compassion. They should be careful themselves, though, not to slip into an alternative fantasy. Rather than calling the children refugees, a more accurate description might be “pawns.” The wiliest players in this cross-border chess game seem to be the organized crime groups who are profiting handsomely by promoting and facilitating the children’s passage to the north. 

This is not a simple situation and there is no simple solution, so nothing will be gained from oversimplification by either bleeding hearts on the left or the stone-hearted shouters on the right.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
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