The refugee crisis at the border has focused attention on the humanitarian situation in Central America, one most Americans were unaware of until now. It is a situation that ICEI founder Ralph Isenberg has become all too familiar with as an immigration advocate.
“You also have to look at the violence that is taking place in El Salvador and Honduras, which is starting to surpass the violence taking place in Mexico,” he said. “We are handling cases of (immigrants facing) extreme violence right now in our office, mostly from El Salvador. I have over a dozen convention against torture cases, where if the person were to be deported they would be instantly murdered upon return.”
Compounding the problem is the recent move by both the President and Democrats and Republicans in Congress to change immigration laws to make it easier to deport without a hearing. “We have an expedited program along the border which basically denies people their due process rights. When you start to deny due process rights, you have a complete breakdown in governance of the system. If a person comes across the border, and they have not been here before, and the person is not a criminal, they have the right to request asylum. There's no reason to change that. We have laws on the books, and if we just followed the laws on the books, the borders are not open.”
Isenberg points out that the calls for immediate deportation result in an inhumane treatment of the unescorted children deported by the United States. “Five years ago, the governors of the three Mexican states that border the United States did a survey of the youth that were returned in the first six months of that year,” he said. “It was determined by the report that 36% of the youth that were dumped into Mexico were unescorted minors. That’s not a humane way of treating a 13 or 14 year old, by dropping them across the border into that same environment. There has to be a better answer.”
Indeed, as the situation in Central America deteriorates and more children flee to the United States, ensuring they are treated properly is essential. Isenberg believes the United States should utilize organizations designed to handle such crises. “There is, in fact, a better answer were just not letting the agency that is assigned to this problem take care of it Unescorted minors have so many days before they are supposed to be turned over to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Affairs. These kids are not being turned over because the resources are not being made available. I certainly would be afraid to have President Obama get FEMA involved. I think that there could certainly be a call for regional cooperation to get these kids out of danger get them into a safe environment, get them some food, and get them relocated to a safe place. That could be done under the auspices of the OAS (Organization of American States), and if the OAS is overwhelmed, there is an agency that knows what to do, and we have been the biggest supplier of funds. That would be the United Nations Office of Refugee Affairs.”
Having the United Nations in charge of a major humanitarian operation on U.S. soil might concern some, but Isenberg thinks those fears are unfounded. “We are not naturalizing our country to the United Nations,” he said. “We are basically calling in some favors for what we have funded for years. When the twin towers came down, we had AWAX and fighter jets from NATO on patrol over the continental United States. Thats not wrong. When nations like Haiti have an earthquake, we send aircraft carriers. This does not have to be a big problem, instead of it being a political mission, it is a humanitarian mission.”
Solving the problem is one thing, but Isenberg thinks the blame for the border crisis stretches from ICE tactics along the border to both parties in Congress, and finally, to the White House. “I blame this crisis on what happened with the last presidential election and all the talk about the DREAM Act,” he said. “This is a direct result of having a President who is not constitutionally in a position to do what he did: letting the kids stay. We’re coming up with all these programs not to deport people. At the same time, ICE is deporting just as many people as before. We are also deporting people that are older, so when you start deporting older people with higher needs than youth, the youth start to bug out.”
Isenberg also points out that America’s War on Drugs has had unforseen negative effects on Central American countries, that likely played a part in the mass migration north. “I’m raising this as a hypothetical question: the U.S. has had its hands busy in the cartel destruction business. I’m certainly not saying I approve of cartel activity, not at all, but the United States has been on a mission to wipe out the cartels. In doing so, what do you think they do to the employment of youth in those areas? Not saying its good employment, but what do you think happens? Unemployment. So all of the sudden, you have unemployment skyrocketing. It’s almost like those who lived in Al Capone’s system; not all of Al Capone’s businesses were illegal. He had far more legitimate business than illegitimate. He had hotels and restaurants. Then suddenly you shut them all down and what do you have? When you take them out, there are going to be consequences.”
In Isenberg’s view, it is obvious this problem has roots in Washington’s inability to properly address immigration in humanitarian terms rather than political terms. “Obama and the Republicans and Democrats in Washington D.C., and their rhetoric there, is what has triggered this. This is a humanitarian problem, not a political issue. You could scatter a bunch of social workers and case workers at 20, 50, and even 100 miles inside the Mexican border, and say to the kids “Hey, turn around, the border is not open.” Show them a picture of how they will be living. Guess what would happen? They would turn around.
“Slapstick foreign policy is a dangerous situation. The Republicans’ position on immigrants is far more unacceptable, but I understand what they are saying. They have straightforward policy, as opposed to Obama who floats around with multiple opinions and actions. At least I know where one stands, rather than say where one stands and then do something else.”
When it comes to ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), Isenberg has been an outspoken critic of their abuses and disregard for the law. In the case of the Border Patrol, however, Isenberg has nothing but praise. “The thing that I think everyone is clearly missing is that Border Patrol is doing a phenomenal job. How many complaints do you hear about Border Patrol versus complaints about ICE? It is why there are nine separate DHS agencies assigned to overlooking ICE and only one overlooking Border Patrol.”