The fight over how to process and care for masses of children from Central America who have crossed into this country is quickly becoming a spectacle of the obscene. While the government tries to abide by the law as written and handle the children with as much care as any child would deserve, under any circumstances, the public continues to see images of angry adults intent on confronting buses full of minors.
This month, demonstrators in Murrieta, California, forced buses carrying immigrants to turn back. A group in Oracle, Arizona, this week blocked a road to prevent a bus filled with immigrant children from making it to a temporary housing facility.
The latest protest came after the county sheriff tipped local residents off about the incoming bus. According to the Associated Press:
Sheriff Paul Babeu "is credited with stirring up the anti-immigrant protesters via social media postings and a press release on Monday and by leaking information about the migrants' arrival to a local activist."
Adam Kwasman, a Republican congressional candidate and state legislator, also showed up to protest the children's arrival. When a school bus was spotted, Kwasman tweeted a picture of it with the words, "Bus coming in. This is not compassion. This is the abrogation of the rule of law."
Kwasman even regaled a local reporter with what he said he saw on the bus: "I was able to actually see some of the children in the buses and the fear on their faces. This is not compassion."
That was until the reporter informed Kwasman that the children on the bus weren't migrant children but local YMCA campers who, according to "reporters at the scene," were "laughing and taking pictures on their iPhones."
Kwasman's response: "They were sad, too."
Well, I know that I'm sad. We should all be. I'm sad that the fate of children has been so consumed by political theatre and callous fabrication.
Some of these children will no doubt be found to simply be illegal immigrants and sent back home, but others, likely many, will indeed qualify for refugee status.
In fact, MSNBC reported last week that of more than 400 children who fled their homes, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees "found that almost 60 per cent of children had legitimate claims to seek asylum in the United States. Most were escaping recruiting attempts by violent gangs who forced participation or threatened the entire families of children who refused."
And yet, rather than refer to these children as just that — children — or possibly refugees, some Republicans have taken to calling their entry into the country an "invasion." They have suggested that these kids are disease-ridden.
Representative Louie Gohmert even suggested on the House floor that the wave of children posed an existential threat to the country, and Governor Rick Perry hinted that the influx could be some sort of Obama administration conspiracy.
All this has raised the tenor of xenophobic hysteria in this country and is likely to poison the well of comprehensive immigration reform.
A Pew Research Centre Poll released recently found that most Americans want to speed up the process by which these children are processed in this country, even if some who are eligible for asylum are deported.
When that question is viewed through an ideological lens, 60 per cent of Republicans and 56 per cent of Independents want to speed up the process, while Democrats are evenly split.
At this point, the entire issue has taken on partisan dimensions. Many of the president's core supporters — blacks, liberal Democrats and young people — are more likely to support following the current policy.
On the other hand, constituencies more likely to oppose the president — men, whites, older people and Republicans, particularly those who are supporters of the Tea Party — favour speeding up the process.
In fact, this issue has chilled Republican views of immigration in general. There has been a 10-percentage point drop — from 64 per cent in February to 54 per cent now — in the share of Republicans who support "a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants."
This is not the best face of a great nation. This is the underside of a great stone, which when lifted sends creepy things slithering in all directions. We (the Americans) are better than this. We are more compassionate than this. We are more honourable than this. This is not the time to give in to our lesser angels, but the time to rise with our better ones.
The New York Times News Service