Open the door
The Obama administration is looking for states to receive and care for some of the approximately 60,000 refugee children who have flooded across the nation’s southern border in recent months. The Shumlin administration ought to find a way to do its part in providing a temporary home for some of the children.
Arrival of the children, who are mainly from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, has touched off a new immigration crisis and accusations that the influx demonstrates the failure of President Barack Obama’s immigration policies. But the issue goes far beyond the politics of the moment, confronting the United States with realities that in coming years it will not be able to avoid.
The United States is now facing a moment of truth when it will define what kind of nation it is and what values it intends to live by. We live in a world where violence and economic inequality have created new surges of migration by people looking to improve or save their lives. Will the United States turn its back on children fleeing violence? Or will it provide adequate care and support as the immigration system adjudicates their cases according to the law?
Sen. Patrick Leahy told fellow senators last week, “The world’s eyes are watching to see how we respond. We can either make good on the promises enshrined in our laws or we can decide that it’s just too complicated and rewrite the law.”
It is a familiar pattern. Violence and poverty in Europe motivated the migration of millions of Europeans to America. Now violence and poverty in Africa, Asia and Latin America are presenting Europe and the United States with new waves of immigration.
In Europe fiercely nationalistic parties of the right have gained in popularity as European nations contend with the arrival of refugees from Africa and elsewhere. Now, Leahy reminded senators last week, “the refugee crisis has come to our own border.”
Residents of border regions are feeling overwhelmed and threatened by the new influx of migrants. But other states can help out, including Vermont. There are 50 states and about 60,000 migrants. Let Vermont find a place for 1,000 children, perhaps on an underutilized campus or campuses. Federal officials say the states will not have to bear the costs.
Vermont has a history of welcoming refugees, including a number of Bosnians fleeing the Balkan wars of the 1990s. Vermont can set an example for the nation, demonstrating the spirit of welcoming and generosity that ought to guide our immigration policy.
It’s not as if the United States has no responsibility for the crisis driving the new surge of migrants. We are not innocent victims of a refugee tide from another planet. Many of the children making the desperate decision to travel 1,000 miles northward are fleeing gang violence caused by drug cartels that are in business to serve the American market for drugs. Americans buying drugs are in an unholy alliance with those cartels, contributing to the corruption and violence plaguing much of Latin America.
In addition, American economic policies, serving the interests of exploitative industries such as bananas, coffee and sugar, have helped to maintain a near-feudal economic system that keeps the great mass of people in poverty. Thus, the poverty of Latin America is something the United States has had a hand in, and it is disingenuous for Americans to look up with surprise when the children of poverty arrive at our doorstep.
Leahy is right. The world is watching. We can veer toward the narrow and mean-spirited anti-immigrant policies animating the right wing in France and elsewhere. Or we can recognize our responsibility as a wealthy neighbor toward children caught up in violence not of their making.
Shumlin ought to appoint a task force to search out ways the state could help, consulting with like-minded states to put on display an attitude that counters the fear and anger of those who feel threatened by the refugee tide. We can show there is nothing to fear. We can give the Obama administration a reliable partner in fashioning a humane response to a humanitarian crisis involving children.
Historically, the nation has been strengthened by the contributions of immigrant populations. Central American children, through whatever combination of desperation and misinformation, are now testing our dedication to our own ideals. Let’s take on that test willingly.