The dichotomy should come as no surprise. Last week, a headline about a Gallup poll suggested that many Americans think immigration is the nation’s most pressing problem. So, naturally, a headline atop an Associated Press story the very next day read, “Prospects for solution to border crisis fade.” Sigh! Just when the American people are most in need of thoughtful and decisive leadership, Congress embraces its most inflexible nature in the name of ideological purity.
The impetus, of course, is tens of thousands of unattended children crossing the nation’s southern border. With youngsters from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador streaming through Mexico to reach the United States, a humanitarian crisis has arisen. According to a federal law passed in 2008 under President Bush, children from far-away lands — not Mexico or Canada — may not be told simply to turn around and return from whence they came.
With the growing urgency of the situation, the search for a solution has jumped to the forefront of the American conscience. A recent Gallup poll showed that 17 percent of citizens list immigration as the nation’s most pressing problem — essentially tied with “dissatisfaction with government” atop the poll. One month ago, about 5 percent of Americans considered immigration to be the nation’s most significant issue, and in January the number was 3 percent.
Rather than solutions, this has led to bickering in Congress, which has a short time to act before its August recess. President Obama has requested $3.7 billion in emergency funding to deal with the influx, and that led last week to wrangling between the parties. “The problem will not be solved until we make clear that those coming here illegally will not be granted amnesty,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said. “Instead of considering a thoughtful, compassionate solution to a real-life crisis, radical Republicans would rather hold these kids ransom,” countered Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada. And Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., opposed legal changes to speed return of the migrants to Central America: “I understand the desire to accelerate the process, but accelerating without due process is not acceptable.”
The suggestion here is not that members of Congress should rubber-stamp Obama’s request for funding or that they should ignore ideological proclivities. But to this point, leaders appear to be more intent upon providing sound bites rather than solutions. “I don’t have as much optimism as I’d like to have,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said about the prospect of Congress reaching an agreement.
In truth, congressional intransigence in recent years helped create the desperate situation at the border. A failure to address immigration reform in any meaningful manner has led to impotence in dealing with the current crisis. “It’s a terrible situation. You talk about small kids, nobody there to help them, but they’ve got to go back,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a supporter of stalled congressional efforts to overhaul the nation’s immigration system. “I am out there on immigration reform, but there is no market for this in America. … America is not going to tolerate this.”
And Americans shouldn’t have to tolerate the situation. As The Columbian suggested last month: A strong information campaign must be waged in Central America, making it clear that children will not be allowed to stay in the United States; and Congress must enact provisions for dealing with unattended minors crossing the border. Time is running short, even as the rhetoric grows long.