The good news at the U.S. border with Mexico is that the flood of children from Central America crossing illegally, now totaling nearly 60,000, has slowed. The bad news is that those whose aim it is to stop legal immigration reform are using the kids to fan fears and turn a humanitarian crisis into political blackmail for anyone even contemplating positive changes in current law.
At the height of the crisis in late June, some 350 unaccompanied minors were crossing illegally each day. Last week that number had dropped by more than half. Clearly, news stories and a U.S. government-funded ad campaign in Central America, as well as word of mouth from immigrant communities in the U.S., have spread the word that kids who make it into the U.S. won't be able to stay permanently. The administration has already begun to deport children who came with parents, and even pro-reform advocates are pushing for changes in law that would treat Central American youngsters the same as Mexicans, allowing for expedited removal.
In the meantime, however, the children already here are suffering in overcrowded, unsanitary conditions -- and fearmongers are peddling disinformation to discourage communities from allowing the children to be housed more humanely. Protests have led ugly mobs to confront buses carrying the children to centers away from the border. Politicians from both parties have taken a hard line against allowing children to be housed in their communities. And cable news, talk radio and the blogosphere are filled with stories about an "invasion" of illegal immigrant children bringing disease and gang violence into the American heartland.
The worst stories suggest that the kids are carrying life-threatening infections. In what may be the most reprehensible allegation, Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., a retired ob-gyn, wrote the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warning that the children may carry "swine flu, dengue fever, Ebola virus and tuberculosis." Ebola virus! The deadly virus -- which leads to organ failure and bodily fluids leaking from the eyes, noses and other orifices of victims, killing about 90 percent of those affected -- has never been found outside of Africa.
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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