I recently embarked on a trip to Central America to learn more about what is causing the increased influx of unaccompanied minors to the United States. I wanted to have those who are on the ground help me better understand the problem and together identify solutions. After all, they will implement and do the grunt work on the ground. The situation is mind blowing. Congress’s response to this crisis is frustrating and embarrassing. With GOP members creating gridlock and vilifying these child refugees whose homelands are so riddled with crime and violence and lack of opportunities that taking the dangerous journey to the U.S. is their only hope of survival or meeting their potential – we should be ashamed. These children aren’t just fleeing to the U.S., other Central American countries are experiencing an increase of children seeking asylum. The U.S. should be doing its part. Every country in the region should. Considering it is some of our international policies that helped create or fuel the violent environment and destroy self-sustaining communities, the very least we can do is guarantee these kids due process under current law.
And to top it all off, Congress adjourned for a five week recess. This is immoral; it’s irresponsible and Congress should go back to work until they address the situation appropriately. The status quo is not cost effective. Existing funding for processing refugees ranges from $250-$1000 a day. Congress’s inaction does not save money. Current funding may be depleted before our elected officials return from vacation. And the farce that was brought up for vote on Friday was disgusting. Using this crisis as an opportunity to strip Dreamers of their protections is shameful. I’d like to applaud the Republicans that broke ranks to vote against the bill. Is this how we want the international community to see us? Why should any country with an influx of refugees at their border listen to us when we urge them to open their doors?
These children aren’t criminals, as some of our elected leaders would lead us to believe. The rhetoric needs to end. It is not the fault of these children that they were born into places where their only options are to be gang members and criminals. Corruption, no jobs and severe lack of access to education-they have no other choice.
During my trip I learned something unexpected, that these countries felt shame. They want these children to come back but know that they need something to come back to. They acknowledge that something needs to change and they want our help. They want to be a part of the solution. But what can we do? I think there are a lot of joint efforts we can engage in to help build stability in their region. To start out, we can stop the rhetoric and take some action. That means Congress working with the President- his recent request for funding is a good place to start.
Let’s work with the governments of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador to create educational opportunities-help them build the infrastructure to move their economies forward. Let’s leverage our expertise at the UC’s and CSU’s to help them train teachers. Let’s leverage our renewables and intellectual capital to help them to take advantage of their geothermal resources to produce clean energy- help them develop a community of scientists and engineers. We can help them create more stable and transparent governments, attract legitimate businesses and create a business friendly environment. By helping them, we help ourselves and the entire western hemisphere. We can work together to address climate change and other global issues while expanding our trade partnerships.
But most of all and most immediately, we should be granting these kids refugee status, we should be reuniting them with family within the US where possible or help them integrate, so that they can become productive, vibrant members of our society. We need to put an end to the expedited deportation process. States, counties, and other municipalities can help find funding to ensure these kids have good legal representation and temporary shelter. We can even create pro-bono programs to train those who want to volunteer to help them.
This country was created by scrapy individuals fleeing their homelands for a better life. They became inventors, innovators and captains of industry, as well as great leaders. One of these kids could be the next Madeline Albright, Mel Martinez, Joseph Pulitzer, Henry Kissinger, Andrew Carnegie, Oscar de la Renta or Levi Strauss -- all of whome were immigrants.
Cristina Garcia is a California Assemblywoman, representing Downey and other local cities.
Published: Aug. 7, 2014 - Volume 13 - Issue 17