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Op Ed: Domina Proposes Solutions to Children Refugee Border Crisis


Perspective -

As we Nebraskans relish the joys of BBQs, fireworks, summer celebrations, and well-earned vacations, a humanitarian crisis forms at our nation’s southern border.

Fleeing murderous gangs in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, thousands of children are currently clinging for their lives on top of north-bound freight trains and wandering through the harsh deserts of south Texas and Arizona. These children are escaping countries where the murder rate is 6 times that of Chicago, America’s most dangerous city.

The children are running from neighborhoods where rape is an everyday occurrence and where drug lords routinely kill boys who don’t want to enter their criminal gangs.

These are refugees. According to the United States honored U.N. Refugee Agency, “a refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so.”

Children at the border are running from lives so dangerous that their parents have sent them — alone — on a dangerous journey across thousands of miles, based on the feeble hope that we, the citizens of the United States of America, will offer them shelter.

We owe it to our neighbors to remain the world’s great shining hope. And, we must be judged by how we act toward our children and the “least of our brethren”. We may recall the words of the Old Testament: “Love the sojourner; for you were sojourners …”

The Central American refugee crisis is an unexpected strain on America’s immigration and child protection agencies. Budgeted to work with 10,000 unaccompanied minors a year; these civil servants have taken in 56,000 children over the last 9 months. They expect to take in another 50,000 kids by the end of the year. Helping these children is a challenge for our entire nation. We must meet this challenge.

Each of us individually can be forgiven for flipping the page; changing the channel; clicking the next link. Our lives are busy. We have our own children to feed, our own jobs to do, our own neighbors to look after, and our own vacations to enjoy.

But we have a special duty. We are Americans. Just as we provided refuge for victims of the Irish potato famine in the nineteenth century; just as we have granted political asylum in recent decades for persecuted men, women and children of Southeast Asia, Sudan, and Latin America; so must we act now.

Our elected leaders are not prepared to solve this problem. President Obama has been slow to address this refugee crisis; he played golf and attended fundraisers instead of heading to the border to find a solution. Congress and the media are wasting time playing the blame game. Rather than helping, our Governor complains about the 200 refugee kids who have managed to find shelter in Nebraska.

If what’s happening now in Texas and Arizona was in Africa or the Middle East, we’d call it a refugee crisis – and we’d be working with the international community to find a solution. The fact that it’s happening on our own soil only increases our responsibility to act. So what can we do?

Immediate Steps

First, we must fully staff our nation’s 59 immigration courts. As we’ve moved to tighten our borders, we’ve created an enormous backlog of cases in these courts, one of which is in Omaha. Over the past 8 years, the number of cases pending in U.S. immigration courts has increased by nearly 300% while the number of judges working in those courts is up just 5%.

Today, the average immigration judge is responsible for 1500 cases; and the average wait time for a day in immigration court is nearly 2 years. Children streaming into our country from Central America deserve a day in court to determine whether or not they qualify to stay as true refugees. The Obama administration has asked Congress for emergency funding to help make that happen. Congress needs to stop bickering and get these special courts funded.

Second, we all can donate time and money to help the charities that have stepped up to care for refugee children. A list of charities that appear to deserve consideration may be found here. Blessings to those Nebraskans who are already providing help.

Third, we need to fix our nation’s foster care system. The Department of Health and Human Services reports that 95 percent of Central American refugee children have family in the U.S. to stay with as they await their day in immigration court. We need to support these families. We will need to find safe and nurturing temporary homes for the remaining 5%, as many as 5000 additional children who came to the U.S. with no place to stay. Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services is doing great work to help coordinate this process. They need our help.

Permanent Fixes

These are immediate priorities. It is also vital to seek more permanent solutions to avoid the emergence of similar crises in the future.

Our continent –and indeed, our world—is increasingly interdependent. We must police our borders intelligently, focusing our attention on denying access to gang members and dangerous criminals. In

particular, we must invest in security at our airports and seaports.

But walls, in and of themselves, will not work. We must also build bridges of opportunity to help our neighbors. We need to create a just and humane temporary worker program. Such a program would issue short-term work visas for migrants to do jobs that are difficult to staff with native-born workers. We can use biometrics to insure foreign workers do not overstay their temporary visas and e-verify programs to insure employers employ legally documented workers. A temporary work program will boost our own economy even as it gives people from around the world the opportunity to experience American freedom and to accumulate savings that will spark development in their home countries.

Nebraskans have a proud heritage of extending love and compassion to those in need. We can grow Nebraska, create jobs, protect refugees and do what needs to be done to secure the borders. The solution to this problem is not partisan; it is intelligent and, humane.

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