In your heart of hearts you know that if a child runs onto your property begging for help, you need to help. If you’re not willing to help, you’d better have a compelling reason why not—if only to ever be able to look at yourself in the mirror again.
I suppose one of the only acceptable reasons not to help a child in distress is: “I can’t. I don’t have any way to help.” I don’t think America or Americans have ever been able to honestly make that claim, but I suppose two of the only times it’s been close to being true was during the Great Depression, and maybe (just maybe) the Great Recession.
Luckily the recession has been over for years, and every economic indicator has been indicating for a while now that the economy is strong and growing stronger. We’re in a better place right now, economically, to absorb immigration than we were, say, during the Mariel Boatlift, or nine-tenths of the years Ellis Island was bustling.
That sounds like I’m saying ‘open the borders,’ and in a narrow way, at least, that’s more or less accurate. If we were to do that—do I not think it possible that a further, bigger (maybe much bigger) flood of children, mothers with infants, whole families, might follow? Yes, that’s a real, undeniable risk.
It’s also true, I think, that our country, like any country, is responsible for our borders. We must have full and final say over who may cross them. I recognize that as part of the definition of nationhood.
And as a nation you absolutely can turn away children in need, if you want to. But how could you ever want to?
So short of making it our absolute policy to deport every kid who crosses over, I think the only hope of slowing this tide is somehow communicating to the people who are sending them that their understanding of U.S. immigration law is incorrect, and that a coyote-led trip north is far too dangerous and expensive to risk for the almost certain outcome of heartbreak.
The Obama administration is trying to send that message, or hopefully something very like it. I hope it works. I suggest we give them time and support, and see if it helps. If it doesn’t, we’ll have to try something else.
Meanwhile we have to deal with the tens of thousands that are already here. Once upon a time we would have greeted young travelers like them with a message about huddled masses, and yearning, and being free.
Short of telling them that, why can’t we open our hearts, spend a few billion, and greet them with a message that goes something like this:
Welcome. Some of you are going to have to go back home.
Some of you will be able to stay. For a while, longer than you’ll like, you’ll be staying in a dormitory. It’ll be clean and reasonably comfortable, but it won’t exactly represent the American lifestyle you came here for.
If the dormitory part goes well—you made it. The doors will open for you. We’ll make sure someone is looking after you, but most of how well you’ll do here is completely up to you. We hope you won’t make us regret letting you in.
Go to school. Learn everything you can, including English. When you’re old enough, and as long as it doesnt slow your education, get a job. Pay taxes. Become a contributing member of our society.
Most of all, please remember – although our welcome to you hasn’t been the most gracious, know that we still consider you a guest. Please be the best guest you can be, and we’ll let you stay as long as you like.