Last month, with thousands of children streaming across our southern border and thousands more detained in poor conditions, President Barack Obama declared the situation a "humanitarian crisis."
I agree. Yet Obama's concern would carry more weight if he hadn't helped bring about the crisis in the first place and if his plans for amnesty weren't going to make it worse.
The president's dishonest plea for billions more of taxpayer dollars makes little sense. As Heritage Foundation scholars David Inserra and Romina Boccia have noted, "Additional funding is not the solution to the U.S.'s immigration woes. Instead, the Obama administration should rescind its anti-enforcement policies that are contributing to this crisis in the first place." The president's request for more deficit spending is merely a ploy to lay the blame for this nightmare on Republicans in Congress.
The overwhelming surge of minors stems from a growing perception in Central and South America that the United States will never turn away children, mothers and family units (after all, we don't even deport all convicted felons). This perception is correct: court cases for children and adults alike are so backlogged that that they are often sent to live with relatives or released to their own devices. Many do not show up for their court dates. Deportation deferrals, lax border security and a complete unwillingness to compel countries of origin to take back deportees and handle their own affairs have all contributed to this reputation. Obama's permissive rhetoric and constant glorification of illegal immigration are the cherry on top. If amnesty ever passes congress - or if the executive branch forces it upon the country, the situation would be even worse. Congress tried amnesty in 1986, and sold it to the public as a one-and-done solution: give illegal residents a pass, just this once, and our immigration woes will be over.
Of course, it had the opposite effect. The whole world watched as we abandoned our principles of fair play and lawful behavior, and here we are today. This is not only a matter of rewarding millions of people for breaking the law, it also teaches many millions more to do the same.
The White House policy of lawlessness has not freed immigrants so much as trapped them. If they survive the thieves, murderers, human traffickers and rapists along their journey, they are placed in overcrowded detention centers. Reports of H1N1, scabies, chicken pox, staph infections, even tuberculosis have multiplied in the last few weeks. Tragedy turns to outrage as we hear that aid workers and physicians are being intimidated into silence by federally-hired security personnel. These are not only unacceptable conditions for the detainees themselves, but present a major public health threat to our communities.
The compassionate thing to do is to enforce the law, secure the border and reform our legal system to deter human trafficking and encourage immigrants to come safely and legally. We should remove unnecessary barriers to becoming an American citizen for those who follow the law.
There are a lot of problems with many "reform" proposals - at least, any of the ones the president deems worthy - in no small part because they are enormous bills, bear zero credibility of enforcement, and are incredibly costly. If the president wants nearly $4 billion to process 60,000 children who are here illegally, how much will he spend to process over 11 million illegal immigrants under his amnesty proposal? Amnesty is most egregious, however, in encouraging more families to gamble that they won't end up sick, abused, imprisoned or dead along the way. It is neither charitable nor compassionate to encourage them to make this dangerous wager.
The men, women and children detained in camps near our border are human beings. They should be treated with kindness and returned safely to their countries of origin: not held in limbo as political pawns of the president. He created this situation by refusing to enforce the law while encouraging further illegal immigration in word and deed. Now he's trying to use this crisis as political leverage to impose amnesty upon an unwilling nation.
But what we see today is merely a preview of what amnesty will bring. It will establish a pattern that we are not serious about our laws. It will encourage more to undertake an arduous and unsafe journey in the expectation that they will be allowed to stay if they make it here. And it will be the next waves of immigrants the president entices who will suffer.
- Jim DeMint is a former U.S. senator from South Carolina and president of The Heritage Foundation.
Originally appeared in the Sacramento Bee