The recent discovery that tens of thousands of children have been crossing into the country alone and parentless, with large numbers of them being detained and held in centers in border states across the country, has many agreeing that the immigration system as it currently stands simply is not working. But the recent, startling upset in Virginia, where a Tea Party candidate beat House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in the Republican primary has many politicians concerned that immigration reform is a political hot potato they are simply too afraid to handle.
Can the President act alone to make the changes the system needs, or will protesters fighting against immigration make the situation too volatile for anyone — Congress or the President — to fix?
The situation nearly came to a head in California, where protesters fighting against immigration blocked buses that were meant to transfer immigrants from more crowded facilities, forcing the buses to detour. The protesters, who were waving American flags, were egged on by the city’s own mayor.
Not all of the residents of the city believed that the families in the buses should be “Returned to Sender,” as the protest signs so cleverly demanded. Those who were inside had fled from violence in their own country, seeking shelter and safety across the border in America. “I don’t think people in that town should be against little kids,” Juan Silva, 27, a welder in Chula Vista, told CBS Sacramento. “We’re not talking about rapists, we’re talking about human beings. How would they feel if it was their kids?”
That detention centers in states like Texas simply cannot handle more immigrants fleeing their home isn’t in question. A recent Texas Tribune report details the conditions in centers in the state, which are trying to cope with the flow of people entering the country and being detained, often for deportation back home. “Politics are left at the door at McAllen’s Sacred Heart Catholic Church, a border parish where more than a thousand of the recently detained migrants, many fleeing violence in their countries, have been taken for temporary food and shelter after being ordered to appear in immigration court,” reports Julian Aguilar. “Volunteers here help arrange medical appointments for immigrants being released from detention, and prepare travel bags for those facing long bus rides to stay with friends and relatives in the United States while awaiting their court dates in places like Chicago, Miami, New York and Miami. Most of the immigrants are women traveling with young children, including infants wearing nothing but diapers after days in detention.”
The question everyone is asking, of course, is what can be done? Getting congressional agreement on any policy plank is nearly impossible these days, and on something as divisive as immigration would be an actual miracle. Too many conservatives remain convinced that any sign of help for the struggling population in the detention centers is an open invitation for more people to enter the country illegally, and going as far as to actually offer more amnesty or a pathway to citizenship, although logical, just and compassionate, would of course be completely unthinkable to them.
That leaves little in the way of options, except unilateral action from President Barack Obama himself. Even there, his power is limited. Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner has already vowed to sue the President for using executive orders, which could potentially curb Obama’s desire to take that route. Still, small incremental assistance, such as more aid to groups working with immigrants along the borders, increasing border patrols and national guard presence and even allowing some children to stay in the country to finish schooling not only may be too little to help, but it will still be enough to anger the anti-immigration wing, without much in the way of real benefits to justify them.
In reality, the situation cannot be addressed without real immigration reform, and that cannot happen as long as the GOP is paralyzed in fear of the anti-immigration wing of their party. No true change will come until at least November and, depending on the results of the midterms, it may be even longer of a wait than that.
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