Linda Chavez
Legislators who've been dragging their feet on immigration reform hardly need another excuse for doing nothing, but the recent influx of young children across our borders is certainly making things more difficult. Anti-reformers claim the sudden increase in illegal border crossings by unaccompanied minors -- about 48,000 so far this fiscal year -- is proof that the border is far from secure. Pro-reformers point to the humanitarian crisis that has developed with thousands of children being held in holding pens not fit for hardened criminals much less kids. But while the two factions engage in finger-pointing, positions in both camps harden and nothing gets done.

First, it's important to understand what is actually happening, mostly along the 1,200-mile border Texas shares with Mexico. For months, youngsters, some as young as 4 years old, having been crossing into the United States in the hopes they will be allowed to stay. According to recent reports, these kids walk right up to border agents as soon as they see them and turn themselves in. They've been instructed to do so, sometimes by the criminal "coyotes" who extort hundreds, even thousands, of dollars from the kids' parents to get them across the border.

These human traffickers are telling parents their children will be granted a legal right to stay in the U.S. once on our soil. This is absolutely false -- but that word is slow in getting to gullible would-be border crossers.

Most of these children are from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, which means they've traveled at least 1,300 miles to get to the U.S. border. They walk or ride on the tops of trains, sometimes falling to their deaths or incurring severe injury. Some are abused, beaten, robbed, raped. The fortunate ones make it into the U.S. only to end up sleeping on the cement floor of a cell, shoulder to shoulder with dozens of other children.

As tragic as the situation is, we have to figure out alternatives to allowing these children to languish in detention centers or become public wards. First, the Obama administration should be doing more to discourage parents from sending these children across Mexico and into our country. The U.S. has an agreement with Mexico in place that allows us to return unaccompanied minors apprehended at the border. We need similar agreements with the Central American countries contributing the current flow. We also need to secure better enforcement by Mexico of its own borders to keep these migrants from entering and crossing Mexican territory. Vice President Biden is in Guatemala this week, and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson is headed to the border, too, but the administration must do more.


Linda Chavez

Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .

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