The Conversation

Progressives Need to Acknowledge the Potential Scale of the Border Crisis

Last night on Fox News' Special Report, Kirsten Powers made the case that the kids arriving on the border shouldn't be treated as illegal immigrants but as refugees. Powers apparently went to the border and talked to some of the kids there and reports they had some harrowing stories of the reasons they made the dangerous journey through Mexico to America.

I suspect Powers is right that if more Americans could hear the stories these kids are telling fewer of them would clamor for these kids to be sent home. President Obama probably miscalculated when he refused to go to the border and highlight those stories. But this may be a moment where all of us, progressives especially, need to think carefully about the impact our reaction to the crisis might have in the near future.

At one point during the roundtable, Powers reacted to statements by Charles Krauthammer (who suggested we might as well send buses to Central American and pick up these kids if that's what we're going to do) saying "So we don't take refugees anymore?" She added a rhetorical question, "This is a country that cannot handle 60,000 refugees?"

If we were talking about 60,000 refugees, then the answer would probably be yes, we can handle that. But in reality, the problem already far exceeds this figure. For starters, we had 40,000 child immigrants arrive last year and 20,000 the year before that. Very few of those ever went home. So we've already absorbed more than 60,000. Add to that the 90,000 that are expected by the end of this fiscal year and you've now got 150,000. The real question is how many come next year once they hear through the grapevine that the U.S. is accepting "refugees?"

Writing for CNN, Rubin Navarette suggests we may only be at the very beginning of a much larger crisis:

Recently, my sources in Texas who have been close to the border kids story since the start -- and have batted 1.000 in terms of the accuracy of their reports -- have been giving me a dire warning. It's the equivalent of: "You ain't seen nothing yet."...

My sources tell me that it is well-known that in the Rio Grande Valley, there are tens or even hundreds of thousands of people from Central America -- mostly women and children -- in northern Mexico right now, waiting for their chance to cross into the United States.

We should stop looking for an endpoint. This story has no end in sight.

That's the reality I believe Powers and others continue to overlook. The number of Central American kids at the border has doubled every year since 2011. That figure is expected to nearly double again next year and could double again the year after that. Where does it end?

There are 30 million people living in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, the three countries from which the kids are now coming in relatively equal numbers. That means there are quite literally millions of teens who would arguably be better off living in the United States.

So let's at least be honest about the scale of this situation. It makes little sense to behave as if we're only talking about 60,000 kids when we know for a fact this is a problem that is escalating. The question isn't whether we can accept 60,000 kids, it's whether we can accept 600,000 or, potentially, several million.

Maybe we can take them in. I'm certainly not against people making the case on humanitarian grounds that we should, but it's disingenuous to pretend the problem at the border is a trivial one or that our actions now won't impact what happens next.


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