Time for a pop quiz: Who is responsible for the law that says unaccompanied children from Central America apprehended at the border cannot be immediately deported back to the violence they are fleeing?
A) President George W. Bush and Congress
B) President Bill Clinton and Congress
C) President Bill Clinton, President George W. Bush, and Congress
D) President Barack Obama, acting on his own
If you picked answer "C" -- Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Congress -- well done. You're right!
The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act was passed in 2000 under President Bill Clinton and a Republican-controlled House and Senate. The policy -- in which child migrants from Central America who are detained at the border have been permitted to stay in the U.S. with family or others until they are granted a hearing before an immigration judge -- was subsequently reauthorized in 2003, 2005, and 2008 by President George W. Bush and the contemporary Congresses.
Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Congress created and perpetuated this law to ensure that child migrants from non-border countries would receive their day in court. The idea was that kids seeking safe refuge in the U.S. would be granted a hearing before a judge who would determine their future, so that children fleeing violence would not be automatically returned to the dangers they were attempting to escape.
The law not only made sense as public policy; it was also a compassionate use of the United States' power to protect the vulnerable. It was a clear instance of America living up to its highest founding ideals. Perhaps that's why so many Republicans chose to vote in favor of it. The law shows that Congress can come together and create policy that works.
Yet these days, all we hear from extremist Republican members of Congress are calls to amend the law so that children fleeing violence can be immediately deported. "The thing this administration needs to do is immediately deport these families, these children," Rep. Raul Labrador demanded. Sen. John McCain agrees with Rep. Labrador, as do Sen. John Cornyn and Speaker Boehner. Outgoing Rep. Michelle Bachmann, meanwhile, labeled the children "invaders" and likened them to rapists.
You would be forgiven for thinking it strange that, although numerous Republican lawmakers voted for the original law and in favor of its subsequent reauthorizations, many of these same lawmakers are now calling for it to be amended or abolished entirely. Even notoriously anti-immigrant House Republicans Steve King and Louis Gohmert voted for the 2008 reauthorization of the law.
You would also be forgiven if you think that the end goal of this hypocritical campaign is particularly callous. After all, the GOP is suggesting changes to the law that would result in a very clear outcome: migrant youths would be summarily and speedily deported back to the murder capitals of the world.
This proposal isn't just misguided. It's heartless. We'd be sending children to near-certain death.
Since its founding, the United States has drawn those brave enough to leave their homes to pursue happiness in a new land. Sometimes, people come here simply because they fear for their life and the lives of their families.
America accommodates those who suffer persecution and seek shelter in the United States by processing them within a distinct legal framework. Under U.S. law, an individual who enters the country seeking protection from persecution in their home country, even if they lack official authorization, can apply for asylum.
Many of these children should undoubtedly qualify as recipients of our compassion and protection. Most are fleeing from the Central American nations of Honduras and El Salvador - the two countries that boast the world's first- and fourth-highest murder rates, respectively. The New York Times reports that kids in Honduras are killed for countless reasons: killed for not wanting to join a gang; killed as retaliation against their sibling or parent; killed by police seeking to sweep the streets of any potential gang members; and killed by simply being caught in the crossfire of the devastation and insanity of Honduras' drug-trafficking-fueled violence.
Can we live with ourselves if we send children back to a country with a murder rate that is six times worse than the most dangerous parts of America? Can we live with sending children to their deaths? It certainly seems like radical extremist Republicans in Congress can. By first supporting and later rejecting humane policy, these lawmakers are not only hypocrites; they're also heartless.