Perry and Texas can do better

07/22/2014 5:35 PM

07/22/2014 5:36 PM

As tens of thousands of children leave death and despair in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador and make the thousand-mile voyage to present themselves for refuge and asylum at the Texas-Mexico border, we have many ways to respond.

We can calmly do as the law and our conscience mandate and accept these children in their most desperate hour of need.

In El Paso, the Border Patrol, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and volunteers organized by Annunciation House, a local shelter, coordinate efforts and resources to ensure a secure, safe and humane process for Central American refugees.

This can be the Texas model as we work within the 2008 trafficking victims law to ensure that children are not returned to those who would harm, exploit or kill them.

We can choose to look at this crisis in the larger context of immigration policy.

When we crack down on enforcement without aligning immigration laws with the reality of labor demand and family unification, we create incentives for migrants who are already here to stay in this country instead of risking trips to see their children and spend time in their home communities.

When security and stability in Central America continue to deteriorate, it’s only natural that migrant families there would seek to bring their children out of harm’s way and join them in the U.S.

Passing a bipartisan immigration reform proposal in the U.S. House, with the border security bill from Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul of Texas serving as a central piece of it, would do much to improve the situation.

We can also acknowledge our culpability in creating this problem in Central America and then work to solve it.

Whether it’s the fact that the U.S. is the world’s largest illegal drug market and that the drugs consumed here are trafficked through Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, or the onerous interdiction and militarization policies we push on these countries, we have a hand in their instability and insecurity.

Over the decades, we’ve knocked off democratic governments, funded brutal military juntas and turned a blind eye to staggering human rights violations in Central America.

Asylum claims in neighboring Mexico, Belize and Costa Rica are up over 700 percent in the last five years.

And remember, the kids presenting themselves at our borders seek out Border Patrol; they do not try to evade them.

Or we can do what Gov. Rick Perry has done: sensationalize a humanitarian problem and prey on the base fears and anxieties in the national electorate with a completely irrational proposal to send the National Guard to the border.

I know Texas can do better.

Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, represents Congressional District 16 in the U.S. House. Twitter: @BetoORourke

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