Steve Chapman

One thing critics ignore is the federal law that expanded protections for children who may be victims of human trafficking -- signed by President George W. Bush. "Longer processing times created by the 2008 act mean longer wait times for the minors in immigration detention facilities," writes Cato Institute analyst Alex Nowrasteh. The result has been more kids than places to house them.

U.S. law calls for immediate deportation of children from Mexico who are apprehended at the border -- but forbids it for minors from other countries. Their fate is ultimately up to immigration judges.

The claim that Obama's action to help Dreamers unleashed the flood is plausible but unproven. It's entirely possible that smugglers try to drum up business by telling parents that kids who make it here will be allowed to stay. But presidents can hardly design policies based on how they may be distorted by self-seeking felons.

Experts say other factors predominate. The Migration Policy Institute says kids are coming "to escape violence, abuse, persecution, trafficking and economic deprivation." Caitlin Sanderson, program director at the Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project in Los Angeles, told The Washington Post her staff has talked to some 600 unaccompanied children about why they came and said, "I have not come upon one intake form that says, 'because of a rumor that says I can stay here.'"

Of the five countries with the highest murder rates in the world, four are in Central America. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees found that nearly half of the children interviewed said they had been harmed or threatened by criminals.

The flow of foreigners would be more predictable if our immigration laws provided more avenues for those who want to come here. If you block off legal avenues for desperate people, they will find illegal ones. Even a huge expansion in the border enforcement has failed to change that elemental reality.

The surge of kids is a logistical and humanitarian challenge, but not a dangerous wave of pestilential predators and vermin. In pondering immigration policy, it's sometimes useful to keep in mind that we are, after all, talking about human beings.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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