Even on Capitol Hill, there is a God.
Last week, the nation’s religious leaders stood up to ask their elected officials to look past politics and see that children — not theoretical abstractions but real, young individuals — are suffering because of inaction by Congress.
The children who have come north, fleeing violence in Central America, “are not ‘issues.’ These are … children made in the image of God and we ought to respond to them with compassion, not fear,” Russell Moore, a leader of the conservative Southern Baptist Convention told The New York Times.
The pope, the President of Catholic Charities U.S.A., the leaders of the evangelical charity World Vision and others want to stop Congress from treating children as political footballs.
They want Congress to pass a funding bill before the August recess that allows for proper handling of children coming to the United States under existing law for minors fleeing violence, sexual abuse and exploitation.
A group of top evangelicals — key supporters of the GOP for decades — wrote to ask Congress last week to protect the children and offer them full consideration in court as refugees.
But the GOP’s obstructionism of anything the Obama White House proposes now stands in the way of faith-based compassion for these children.
“If Republicans move forward on this, we’re now jumping in right in the middle of President Obama’s nightmare and making it ours,” said Rep. John Fleming (R-La.).
“If it doesn’t have the 2008 repeal in it, I don’t support it — we’ve got to address the cause of the problem,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said last week, referring to Bush-era legislation that gives children from certain countries who enter the United States illegally the right to a hearing before a judge.
McCain’s analysis leapt over the fact that these children did not start arriving in large numbers until late last year. They did so in response to deadly threats in their home countries, not because of any law.
The GOP is guilty of at least three counts of intellectual and moral dishonesty in this debate.
First is the claim that waves of illegal immigrants are sweeping across the southern border in unprecedented numbers. The fact is that net migration from Mexico, the biggest source of migrants, fell to zero in 2012. And, if you include El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, it is estimated by Frank Bean of the Center for Research on Immigration, Population and Public Policy at UC Irvine, the net is less than 100,000 people per year.
The second dishonest claim from the GOP is that a large share of the nation’s 12 million illegal immigrants ran, swam or were brought across the border by smugglers, “coyotes” or human traffickers.
Wrong again. The plurality — at least 40 percent — of illegal immigrants now in the United States came legally on boats and planes. They simply overstayed their visas. Yet Republicans in the House refuse to move on comprehensive immigration reform and crack down on the heart of the problem.
Third, and most frequently, Republicans contend they don’t trust President Obama. They say that until Democrats get serious about border security they will refuse to pass immigration reform or deal with the current crisis of children seeking asylum.
But Obama’s funding request includes money for increased security, providing additional money for the Border Patrol and even for drones. The bipartisan Senate immigration reform bill also included huge amounts of money for further security. And Obama has deported so many people he is sometimes attacked from the left as the “Deporter in Chief.”
The most outrageously false claim is that Obama’s 2012 executive order is the real problem. That order halted the deportation of some children brought to the United States illegally as minors.
The fact is that Obama’s executive order applied only to young people who were already in the country. The young people now asking for help are not eligible under his program.
It is a marvel of political dishonesty to point at Obama and blame him for how human traffickers misrepresent U.S. immigration policy to desperate parents in Central America.
The facts of the child migrant crisis lead to a harsh conclusion. Republicans are deaf to calls for mercy for children because they are playing for political gain. They see the chance to use the fear of “invading” immigrants to spur their voters to turn out in the midterm elections.
Late last week, Republicans offered a plan with less than half of the $3.7 billion the White House wants to deal with the crisis. Senate Democrats have a proposal that cuts Obama’s request by about a quarter. But the Democrats refuse GOP demands to change the 2008 law.
Meanwhile, federal customs and immigration agencies will be out of money by September without supplemental funds from Congress.
The GOP seems content to let it happen and stoke the crisis so long as they can blame Obama.
Can people of faith shame these politicians?