President Barack Obama has gone from being the deporter-in-chief to being held politically responsible for a flood of immigrants crossing the nation’s southern border. But this is more than politics — it is a real humanitarian crisis.
Illegal immigrants have long crossed the Mexican border, but never like this. By the thousands, children are coming from Central America — especially Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala — unaccompanied by their parents. It is an exodus unparalleled in recent history, recalling the harrowing stories of the so-called Children’s Crusade said to have drawn youngsters to the Holy Land 800 years ago.
Why this is occurring now is not altogether clear. It could be a reaction to the decision two years ago by the Obama administration to allow immigrants who came as children to stay without fear of deportation. But it could also be a desperate bet made by parents who figure that an immigration bill will eventually be passed and that their children, even though they arrive now, will get a chance at a better life.
Whatever the cause, it has overwhelmed those charged with guarding the nation’s borders and has led to scenes of angry Americans barring the way to immigrant children, a reaction that shames the nation’s humanitarian conscience. Mr. Obama’s response Tuesday was to ask Congress for $3.7 billion to deal with the influx.
Republicans (and some fearful Democrats) are refusing to give the request serious consideration. They believe a crisis is unfolding, but they don’t trust Mr. Obama and they resist giving him a blank check.
Not exactly blank. The money would go to building more detention centers, adding immigration judges, beefing up border patrols and aerial surveillance, the very things needed to protect the borders and take care of the children prior to processing. Instead, congressional gridlock and dysfunction rule.
Mr. Obama needs to be more explicit in saying these children will be returned to their homes. But Republicans can’t have it both ways. They can’t savage Mr. Obama for doing nothing and then argue against him when he acts. The congressional critics have to decide: Do they want to be part of the solution or part of the problem?