07/04/2014 09:07 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Desperate Children Are At Our Border Seeking Asylum. Immigration Reform Should Allow Them To Stay.


What did you ever do to become an American? Perhaps you went through the arduous task of convincing your parents to give birth to you on U.S. soil. If so, then bravo, your cosmic ability to influence fate should be applauded. You chose your parents wisely and lucky you.

However, if you've done nothing more than simply enjoy the great fortune of being an American citizen from day one, and still find it within your heart to bemoan the desperate children at our borders, take a moment to put yourself in their shoes. Take a moment away from your righteous nativist indignation; the same sentiment that fueled discrimination against the Irish, Chinese, Italian, Polish, Jewish, and every other immigrant group who made their voyage to this great land. For a couple of minutes, remove yourself from the hate-filled chain emails rife with false statistics about illegal immigrants. Turn off the conservative media personalities who make millions inciting your base distrust of innocent children "invading" our sovereign territory. For just one second, try to reconcile the fact that you most likely have a strong belief in faith and religion, but have no problem turning away frightened and distressed children who worship the same God.

Then, ask a couple of questions.

Did you ever, in your entire life, take a 1,700 mile trek through a desert (full of dangerous terrain and other deadly risks) in order to live here? Probably not, because you're an American like me and odds are you've never served in the military, or done anything else to prove the immense patriotism running through your veins. The petrifying reality that your taxes might go up, or that you might eventually have to pay for someone else's medical care is what keeps you up at night, not the prospect of leaving your home for a better life in some faraway land.

However, there are children at our borders currently who have made great sacrifices; probably more sacrifices than you've ever made in your entire life to become an American. Unlike people who dress up in Revolutionary War costumes and evoke the Constitution as if the document adhered to their every whim, these kids might not look like you, but they love your country more than you could ever imagine. They also have serious reasons to leave their countries, and it's not to take American jobs. According to a recent article in The Guardian about the rape and murder of a female law student in Guatemala, the violence and political situation in that country is horrendous:

After the 1996 peace accords, Guatemala rapidly became one of the world's most violent countries as drug cartels, organised crime gangs, and corrupt officials flourished amid weak public institutions and almost total impunity. In 2007 the government and the UN took the extraordinary step of forming the Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (Cicig), an independent organisation to increase the prosecution of criminal gangs and corrupt officials...

A particular upsurge in general violence and the murder of women began in 2003 when police recorded 383 violent deaths - a 21% increase on the previous year. By 2003, criminal gangs were fighting over territory and it was increasingly apparent that the main triggers of the civil war - poverty, discrimination, inequality and land rights - were largely unchanged.

It's a pity that Rick Perry and Ted Cruz don't take into account the fact that the children amassed at our borders are fleeing such political strife.

Furthermore, because of the dangers in their home countries, these children deserve political asylum. As stated in a recent Mother Jones article titled 70,000 Kids Will Show Up Alone at Our Border This Year. What Happens to Them?, this mass migration is less about job seeking and more about leaving violence and turmoil:

According to a report from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 58 percent of the 400 youth the agency interviewed "had suffered, been threatened, or feared serious harm" that might merit international protection. "This is becoming less like an immigration issue and much more like a refugee issue," says Wendy Young, executive director of Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), a DC-based nonprofit that helps unaccompanied immigrant kids find pro bono legal services. "Because this really is a forced migration. This is not kids choosing voluntarily to leave."

While forced migration isn't something you'll hear on conservative talk radio or television, the reality is that these young people have suffered greatly to get to our country. As stated in the article, over half of the young people "had suffered, been threatened, or feared serious harm." If they were political dissidents in the Cold War, we'd have let them in without a problem.

A Los Angeles Times article titled Explaining the crisis on the Southwest border as children seek refuge also highlights the political dimensions that would define these children as seeking political asylum:

Although there has always been crushing poverty in Central America, violence in the region has escalated in recent years. For example, Honduras has the most murders per capita of any country.

Drug cartels and gangs are at the root of the increased violence. Some of these children are fleeing gang initiations, according to several reports.

...Although these children are not eligible for President Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, some may qualify for asylum or other forms of immigration relief. For example, crime victims might be allowed to stay in the United States.

A report released in March by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees states that 58% of children arriving from Mexico and Central America are eligible for some sort of humanitarian protection under international conventions.

A similar study by the Vera Institute of Justice found that about 40% were eligible for some form of immigration relief -- such as asylum or special immigrant juvenile status.

Organizations familiar with the plight of political refugees are saying that over half of these children "are eligible for some sort of humanitarian protection." Why? The answer is many are fleeing violence and bloodshed, not looking for a job. Also, if 40% of these young people according to the Vera Institute Of Justice are indeed eligible to be labeled as asylum seekers, then future immigration reform laws should allow them to stay in the country.

Conservative media personality Laura Ingram recently declared, "No. 1, first thing you do is start deporting people, not by the hundreds, not by the dozens, by the thousands...That means entire families, not just the father or mother, but we keep families unified by deporting all people who are here illegally." Her words were so outrageous that even Bill O'Reilly tried to explain that following her suggestion would result in catastrophe for the GOP. Furthermore, her bravado pertaining to the lives of children disregards both their sacrifice, as well as the legal dimensions pertaining to their case for political asylum. It should be noted that Ingram and other conservatives have no problem pontificating about faith and God, but are strangely very quick to turn away frightened and desperate children.

We should be listening to Pulitzer Prize Winner Jose Antonio Vargas about this issue, not people who make a great deal of money peddling fear and distrust of illegal immigrants. Yes there are thousands of children at the border and risks associated with giving them political asylum, but the benefits outweigh those risks. Unlike the average American teen who throws a temper tantrum when told he or she is grounded or won't be getting a new phone, these children went through hell in order to live in this country.

I'd rather have a million border children who've sacrificed everything to become an American than one Ted Cruz born in Canada with a sliver spoon in his mouth who thinks he's a Texan.