The huge influx of unaccompanied minors crossing the border shines a glaring spotlight on the lack of leadership of our elected officials. There are politicians and demagogues but no leaders.
It was not always that way.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection says about 63,000 unaccompanied minors have been apprehended since last October at the country’s southern border. Many are escaping the brutality of gangs and drugs in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. They are refugees who have been forced to flee; they are not immigrants who have chosen to leave.
Still, the governor of Texas insists on maintaining the political posture that all who cross the border are criminals and unaccompanied minors crossing the border are a “side issue” of a larger problem.
Texas Governor Rick Perry told networks and other news outlets that he is “substantially more concerned about” criminals crossing the border.
“That’s the real issue here, and one that all too often gets deflected by the conversation about unaccompanied minor children,” he said.
Although President Barack Obama asked Congress for $3.7 billion in emergency funds, including $1.8 billion to feed and house the young refugees, he turned down an opportunity to visit the border while on a visit to Texas.
“This isn’t theater. This is a problem. I’m not interested in photo ops. I’m interested in solving a problem,” Obama said during a press conference in Dallas.
What did Congress do about the emergency funding request? A vote on the measure was cancelled before politicians left on a five-week summer recess. During the break, members return home to campaign for re-election so they can return to Congress and continue to do nothing.
It wasn’t always that way and I was reminded of this in an op-ed piece in The Seattle Times by Daniel J. Evans, who was governor of Washington state from 1965 to 1977 and U.S. senator from 1983 to 1989.
He recalled that in 1975, then Gov. Jerry Brown of California said he wanted no Vietnamese refugees to settle in California.
“I was appalled and furious, and stormed to my office determined to take action,” Evans wrote about the moment he heard about Brown not welcoming the Vietnamese refugees. “When I arrived, I found that my staff had already heard the news and were just as offended. Many U.S. citizens vehemently opposed giving haven to an enemy we fought so bitterly. But these were innocent people fleeing the excesses of a new regime.”
His administration found hundreds of sponsoring families to assist the refugees in resettlement. The governor was present to greet the refugees as the first plane arrived in Washington state.
He did no more than lead and, like other governors and mayors at the time, did so without a photo op.
“I’m exceedingly proud of the volunteer sponsors, support organizations and legislators who welcomed these productive new citizens to our state,” Evans wrote, recalling the contributions many of those refugees later made.
“But that was 40 years ago. What should we do today about immigration?” Evans asked in the Aug. 2, 2014, opinion piece.
“First, receive the children fleeing from repression in Central America the same way we welcomed refugees from Vietnam 40 years ago,” he said.
Then the House should pass its version of an immigration bill as the Senate has done.
“It is unconscionable to delay just because the issue is politically uncomfortable,” Evans wrote.
Evans led at a time when there were still statesmen. Profiles in courage are now mere shadows, especially when the fate of refugees is referred to as a “side issue,” when seeing a problem firsthand is theater.
But it doesn’t always have to be that way.
Kent is the retired editor of two archdiocesan newspapers and has a master’s degree in spirituality. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.