SAN DIEGO — We already knew the immigration issue was a tough one for Republicans. They have a hard time opposing legal status for the undocumented without sounding anti-Hispanic. They insist their leaders take loyalty oaths to oppose an “amnesty,” alienating them from the mainstream. They have to balance supporting a business community that wants more immigration with coddling a nativist wing that wants less.
Yet, recent events along the U.S.-Mexico border show that immigration also trips up Democrats. Consider the trouble it’s causing Hillary Clinton. As the presumptive 2016 presidential candidate learned recently, navigating these choppy waters is not child’s play.
In the last nine months, about 47,000 unaccompanied children and teenagers have come across the border. According to U.S. immigration officials, they’re arriving at the rate of 1,000 per day. About three-fourths are from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Most got through Mexico by stowing away on top of freight trains that go north. Some of them didn’t survive the trip.
Many Americans think that the border kids are being pushed north by their parents. But many of the children are being “pulled” by parents who already live here. They were sent by grandparents, aunts, uncles. Here in the United States, families are being reunited.
Yet Clinton glibly said during a recent CNN town hall that these young people “should be sent back” because “we have to send a clear message: Just because your child gets across the border, that doesn’t mean the child gets to stay.”
So does this mean we’re going to enter these homes where families have been reunited, and rip the child out of the arms of his parents?
U.S. Latinos got the message. Clinton — who started her career with the Children’s Defense Fund and who likes to think of herself as a lifelong advocate for children — won’t defend or advocate for these children.
With her tough-sounding “send them back” mantra, Clinton forgot the same thing that so many Republicans often forget: Any solution to the immigration problem that fits neatly on a bumper sticker is not a good approach.
Interestingly, just minutes before saying that the Central American kids should be deported, Clinton said that deporting people and “leaving their children alone or deporting an adolescent ... just makes no sense.”
What really makes no sense is Clinton trying to have it both ways on the immigration issue, striving — in the answer to just one question — to be both kind and tough and making hash out of her position in the process.
Clinton also said that under President Obama, deportations were tapering off. That comment got immediate pushback from United We Dream, an immigration advocacy group that released a statement saying it was “at odds with the realities faced by too many of our families.”
That’s putting it mildly. Clinton appears to be modeling her approach to the immigration issue on how her husband handled it. And that was a disaster. As president, Bill Clinton sped up deportations, signed an immigration law that made it easier to deport people and harder for them to return, and militarized the U.S.-Mexico border south of San Diego with Operation Gatekeeper.
Social media have been burning up with Latino criticism of Clinton. It’s as if many of them were waiting for her to approach the immigration issue more compassionately than Obama has in the last five years. That obviously didn’t happen.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration is in full restrictionist mode. The Department of Homeland Security recently announced that it was going to provide additional judges, asylum officers and immigration attorneys to speed up deportations at the border. During a visit to Guatemala City, Vice President Biden announced: “There is no free pass. ... None of these children or women bringing children will be eligible [for citizenship] under the existing law in the United States of America.”
Just a few weeks after Obama labeled this an “urgent humanitarian situation,” it looks like the administration intends to return these unfortunate young souls to the dark and desperate places they came from.
Which is just what Hillary Clinton thinks we should do. She might be right. But she’s no humanitarian.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.