America the Gullible

The situation on the southern border has gotten out of hand because a provision of our federal immigration law has been misinterpreted – or, at worst, willfully subverted.  Put another way, Central American kids made the journey north, but now it is the American people who are being taken for a ride.

If you suppose that this unusual statute was ferreted out and dusted off after long years of obscurity, think again.  It is part of the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008.  Note the use of the term “victims.”  This measure was designed specifically for victimized kids from “noncontiguous” countries brought here against their will by traffickers.  The intent of the law was to transfer them to the Health and Human Services Department for care and processing.  Advocates would then be appointed to work for such children in reuniting them with families or placing them in foster care.

But the kids at the border were sent here purposely by their own families!  So, as is often the case these days, some sharpie perceived a way to tweak the law in order to advance an agenda through a loophole, in this case one large enough to flood the United States with all the kids in the world, except for those living in the “contiguous” countries of Mexico and Canada.

Gulling the American people via U.S. immigration laws has become a profitable game – and we’re losing it badly.  When a law has no teeth, it doesn’t bite.  When a policy is not enforced, it ceases to matter.  And so we have a situation where a bill passed in the Bush administration to guard against child trafficking has resulted in the wholesale abuse of the law.  We can fume all we want about what is happening on the southern border, but the fact is that the group behind it is more canny than we are.

America the Gullible.  To every corner of the earth has gone forth the news of our soft underbelly and our failure to manage problems here and abroad.  The corruption and non-transparency in this administration make it even easier for outsiders to best us and play us for fools.  And now – in the pitiful form of thousands upon thousands of children following a false Pied Piper – the bitter truth of our own inadequacy is coming home to roost.

There’s nothing new about the deplorable conditions in Central America.  Poverty and waves of violence have been threatening people there for decades.  But not until a way was devised to misinterpret an immigration law did the widespread exodus of children to the Promised Land actually come to pass.  Forget the buses and trains.  These wayward kids were transported here in a the modern-day equivalent of the Trojan Horse.

A dozen or so years ago, I traveled around Central America.  The scenery was stunning.  The culture was interesting, but shockingly sad in regard to the gap between the well-to-do upper class and the marginalized peasants.  Any middle class between them seemed small, if nonexistent.

It wasn’t just a matter of urban affluence versus rural neglect.  In the picturesque colonial city of Antigua, Guatemala, well-scrubbed children in school uniforms marched in formation to their classrooms, while just down the street in the local zocala, less favored youngsters, mestizos for the most part, many even without shoes, spent their days hawking native trinkets to tourists.  Education was not in their present, and any change for the better was most likely not in their future.

While we were eating dinner on the patio of a popular restaurant in the lakeside town of Panjachel, a girl maybe ten years old came to our table selling embroidered blouses.  She looked so weary that we invited her to sit down – no doubt, not a customary arrangement.  She told us in Spanish and a smattering of English phrases that she and her older brothers had come over from an island in the middle of nearby Lake Atitlan, and would spend the night somewhere before returning home the next day.  We ordered her some food.  By the time it arrived, she was fast asleep, her head on the table, cushioned by a pile of plastic-wrapped blouses.

We are all armchair critics, but in the case of this current matter, here is what I think should be done, based on the fact that the spirit of the law has been misinterpreted and does not apply in this instance.

First, recognize that this situation is nothing new.  The excellent award-winning film El Norte, produced over 30 years ago, dramatically portrayed the oppressive conditions in Guatemala and what happens to adults who rise up against them.  It was much harder back then for refugee orphans – those whose parents had actually been killed or jailed by the government – to make their way north.  Human- and drug-smuggling weren’t big businesses back then.  And where would that brother and sister have gotten the money to pay them, anyway?

Secondly, demand a solution of this systemic and long-term problem in Central America from those who created it, not from us.  Liberals decry so-called “nation-building.”  I feel the same way about nation-destroying, which is what this sort of activity is designed to do.

The presidents and/or diplomats of those countries, all of whom live very high on the hog, must immediately find a way to return these children to their families or loved ones back home, using, if necessary, the funds that the USA has futilely lavished on their corrupt governments over many years.

Thirdly, if the leaders balk, they should be told that the flow of cash from the USA to their fiefdoms will come to an immediate end.  Oh, of course, this would likely hurt us as much as it would them, since we import so much stuff, etc.  Goods would be denied; jobs would be lost.  Citizens might be inconvenienced.  But we would survive.  And America’s backbone would grow stronger for it.  Boy, would that be a refreshing change!