Immigration Reform: Do Children Change the Argument?

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

With immigration reform heavy on the agenda for post-midterm politicians who make it through the electoral cage matches, underage immigrants have become a particularly sensitive topic. While immigration as a more general topic may be a popular policy whipping boy for both sides of the aisle, criticizing either Congress for inaction or President Barack Obama for overzealous action — or under-zealous, depending on the topic — the specific issue of children crossing the border is one that has some stepping more carefully. Still, while some begin to see shades of grey, both legally and morally, when the age of immigrants comes into the picture, others are adamant that the issue is unchanged.

The House Homeland Security Committee hearing made the distinction between viewpoints particularly clear. In questioning the Homeland Security Secretary, Jeh Johnson, Representative Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) spoke first on the need for better fencing to keep children out along the Southern border, and questioning Johnson on why the turnaround on return of immigrants is less rapid for unaccompanied minors. “We don’t have a fence down there and if we did we wouldn’t have five year old children coming across,” said Rogers, according to NBC. “I’ve been down to Nogales where they have the large detention facility and I’ve seen the folks that we detained be debriefed, cleaned up, put on a bus, and sent back. Why aren’t we doing that with these children?” he asked. Johnson replied that the law demands that unaccompanied and underage children be handed over to the Health and Human Services Department.

“Well, the law required Obamacare to begin two years ago and it hasn’t stopped the administration before when it wants to do something different. This is a humanitarian crisis, it’s a national security crisis for our country and I don’t know why these children are being treated any differently,” said Rogers — which is where the controversy comes in.

Vice President Joe Biden spoke late last week on his communication with leaders in Guatemala, Mexico, El Salvador, and Honduras, discussing the need to return children to their countries, the U.S.’s overall legal requirements and stances, and the difficulties in handling some of the more complex issues that come along with these laws and needs. He noted that in his discussion with foreign leadership of countries in question: “Everyone agreed that these children should be reunited — with their parents in the country from which they came. Everyone agreed to that,” but clarified that, “You’re clearly not going to send a child back to a circumstance where there is no one there for them.”