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An Immigration Lawyer Discusses the Border Crisis

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I recently interviewed Harry DeMell, an immigration lawyer since 1977 and a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, about the current immigration crisis

Schupak: So Harry, you have compared the current influx of children into the United States with the Cuban Mariel Boatlift of 1980.

DeMell: Yes. There are many similarities here. In both cases we have a president making statements or taking actions that have encouraged thousands of people to come to the United States and in each case they were unable to see the consequences beforehand.

Schupak: So you think that the two incidents are similar.

DeMell: No. They are similar though. President Carter invited Cubans to come here in 1980 without fully understanding that Castro would use this as an excuse to send some 125,000 people here. President Obama two years ago established a program that would allow young people in the U.S. illegally to remain here indefinitely, without realizing that hundreds of thousands of children would come here in the hope of getting the same deal. In the intervening two years, it is possible more than 150,000 young people, mostly from Central America, have come here. I'm sure many are coming and not being counted. Many more seem to be on the way.

Schupak: So you think that both Presidents did not understand what would result from their decisions.

DeMell: Yes. In 1980 the Mariel Boatlift became a political liability for President Carter and contributed to his election defeat. The children entering the United States now contributed to the defeat of Congressman Eric Cantor and is becoming a major issue in the upcoming elections. Eric Cantor supported the president's actions, and it was an issue in his defeat. I expect even strong supporters of amnesty will position themselves differently now. I expect it will be a major issue in the mid-term elections this fall.

Schupak: Why do you think President Obama's actions have caused this influx of children?

DeMell: Because the parents of these children had hope that the program would be extended to include their children. People want to come here and for good reasons.

Schupak: What is wrong with that? Isn't America big enough to help those in need, especially when they are children?

DeMell: We have always been able to help those truly in need. We should, but these uncontrolled influxes create a situation that can quickly get out of control. The logical extension of what is happening now could lead to millions of children entering the United States. This is not necessarily good for America or the children.

Schupak: Why isn't it good for America?

DeMell: It is the correct and proper responsibility of government to control who and how many people enter the United States. With uncontrolled immigration comes uncontrolled crime, unemployment and possibly terrorism.

Schupak: What about the children?

DeMell: In many cases, these children are being sent thousands of miles by their parents, and their life is put in danger. When they get here, there is no one to properly care for them. I do not see a surge of pro-immigrant advocates lining up to adopt these children. What are we going to do with them? We will have to establish residences, which will be little more than prisons or concentration camps. This can't be good.

Schupak: Do you think these children will be deported?

DeMell: Yes. If we do not deport them, we can expect millions more. I repeat, millions more. Some children will die along the way and their care here will be uncertain.

Schupak: But these children are fleeing poverty or worse at home.

DeMell: By that standard, we could take a hundred million children or more from around the world who live in poverty. What would that do to our standard of living? I would argue that the best place for these children is with their families overseas and that the best thing the U.S. can do is promote democracy and trade with their countries to improve their standard of living.

Schupak: During the 1930s and 40s we refused to take Jewish refugees and almost all were killed.

DeMell: That is not the same thing. We would not be sending children to their deaths and we would provide hearings for those who had some credible fear that they are in danger. We have a generous policy for those suffering real political persecution, even though we have been inconsistent at times. It is unfortunate, but we cannot realistically take all the world's poor. If we take too many now, there is a real chance of a backlash that will close the door to further generous immigration policies.

Schupak: Why do you think the doors might close in the future if we're too generous now?

DeMell: We had a generous amnesty in 1986. Just 10 years later Congress passed, and President Clinton signed, into law a draconian set of laws that have restricted immigration and visas. If the same thing were to happen now, a similar draconian bill might be the result, and that would end immigration as we know it.