As the stalemate and partial government shutdown over $5 billion for a border wall/fence/barrier grinds on, the tragedies associated with illegal immigration continue to mount. Unfortunately, both sides are focused on photo ops and talking points for political leverage rather than dealing with the facts.
That’s unfortunate, because in addition to the human tragedy there is the question of whether the United States can defend its borders – even in cases that tear at the heartstrings.
Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus descended on Lordsburg after the death of a 7-year-old Guatamalan girl, Jakelin Caal Maquin, in mid-December. She became ill during the difficult journey through the harsh desert environment to the southern U.S. border. Border agents had her flown by helicopter to an El Paso hospital, where she died. Questions surround her death, including whether she had food or water in the days before she crossed the border with her father and the amount of time before she received medical attention.
The visiting delegation delivered speeches before cameras, demanding probes into whether Customs and Border Patrol was responsible. The grandstanding ignored that the child’s father – perhaps unaware of the very real physical risks and with the best of intentions – put her in danger to begin with.
But the same group didn’t have much to say when an illegal immigrant identified as Gustavo Perez Arriaga allegedly shot and killed Newman, Calif., police officer Ronil Singh, who had pulled the suspect over on a DWI stop the day after Christmas.
The local sheriff – and President Trump and conservative media outlets – quickly used the incident to argue our borders are not secure and sanctuary policies are in part to blame for the death of Singh – a legal immigrant from Fiji with a wife and 5-year-old son. Perez had previous DUI incidents and reportedly self-identified himself as a gang member. As it was with the tragic death of Kathryn Steinle in San Francisco, the fact immigrants commit fewer crimes than their U.S.-born peers wasn’t in the script.
While Trump makes any compromise difficult with his bellicose theatrics, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi isn’t helping by calling the same physical barriers Democrats have supported for years “immoral,” border barriers in some form would help with the humanitarian crisis by sending the message we do care about border security and funneling crossers into safer, more manageable areas than Antelope Wells, N.M.
When Barack Obama was president, he addressed a similar flood of Central American refugees by having his administration take out ads in newspapers in those countries telling people not to come because they wouldn’t get to stay. That’s because asylum is for those who can prove they fled certain kinds of persecution and not just a way to seek a better life.
In the most recent child death – 8-year-old Felipe Gómez Alonzo of Honduras who died in an Alamogordo hospital – the father told the Associated Press he was fleeing poverty and had heard a “rumor” that if he had a child he would get to stay. No one can blame him for seeking a better life, but that’s not an asylum claim; that’s what the legal immigration process is for. And the reality is the U.S. simply cannot accommodate everyone who seeks to better their lives and the lives of their families by immigrating here.
That’s why the time for photo ops and talking points has passed; the United States needs its leaders to finally act and fix the broken immigration system so it is fair, and safe, and humane. And then enforce it.
The choice is clear. Either we are OK with this free-for-all where anyone can risk life and limb to cross the border, consistent with the “open borders” rhetoric of some of the Democrat House majority who urge more facilities and medical care for all those who want to enter. Or, we find a way to secure the border while reinforcing Obama’s message and encourage safer legal migration that doesn’t sacrifice immigrant children and legal residents on the same altar of inaction.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.