Give the Kids Asylum!


In the blizzard of words set off by thousands of unaccompanied children crossing the US border from Mexico, the sanest analysis comes from the United Nations.

The kids are refugees, most of them anyway, the UN points out in a new report.

Of course they’re refugees. And of course they should be treated as refugees – not lawbreakers. They deserve asylum, not incarceration and deportation.

Leslie Velez, a lead author of the UN report “Children on the Run,” says the agency has found that pervasive violence and the inability of the state to provide security for its citizens are primary reasons for children fleeing such countries as Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

Most of these children are fleeing the kind of gang violence that can be as bad as a military conflict.Kids in many drug-infested Latin American countries are subjected to unspeakable abuse. Their lives are at risk.

In contrast to Republicans like John Boehner who want to send troops to beat back  the invading children, President Obama is treating the crisis as a humanitarian challenge. He has directed Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to do whatever it takes to care for the kids. And Johnson has assigned FEMA chief Craig Fugate to coordinate the rescue.

Johnson told The New York Times that the influx of unaccompanied minors had “zoomed to the top of my agenda” after he encountered small children — including one who was 3 years old — during a recent visit at the McAllen Border Patrol station in Texas.

The President originally asked Congress for $868 million to fund the response to the invasion, but raised the ante to $1.5 billion as the scope of the problem came into focus.

I have yet to learn the details of the Obama Administration’s plan, but now that the UN has provided some clarity, there can be no doubt that the kids must be protected under international law. As the UN report points out:

Because, by definition, the Governments of their home countries no longer protect the basic rights of these individuals, the international community must step in to ensure that those basic rights, as articulated in numerous international and regional instruments, are respected.

I am confident the President, as a law professor and humanitarian, will not ignore the UN findings.

And I am sure he recognizes that the region’s long-term problems need to be addressed to stem the flow of children crossing into the US. As Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, auxiliary bishop of Seattle and chairman of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’  Committee on Migration, said recently:

These children are extremely vulnerable to human traffickers and unscrupulous smugglers and must be protected. Over the long term, the increasing violence from gangs and organized crime in their home countries must be addressed and controlled so they can be secure in their homes.

There’s even more of a challenge to be faced: comprehensive immigration reform. Without such action, anything the government does will be a temporary fix. And that, as we all know, will not happen as long as the Republicans control the House.

The only solution is Democratic control of Congress. And that is one reason November’s elections are so crucial to America’s – and Latin America’s – future.

Click for more on the UN report.

Click for more on the border crossings.