The crisis along the southern US border has politicians and immigration officials scrambling. More than 52,000 children, mostly from Central American nations, have arrived so far this year. The Department of Homeland Security is running out of space to hold them all.
President Barack Obama is asking Congress for $3.7 billion to cover the growing "care, feeding, and transportation costs of unaccompanied children and family groups." Texas Gov. Rick Perry criticized the president's plan, saying more money should go toward securing the border.
But the larger question may be whether these illegal immigrant children should be allowed to stay in the United States or deported to their home countries. How much compassion can America afford? Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, weigh in.
JOEL MATHIS: There's not a single good reason the United States — a nation built by immigrants — should not welcome and embrace the thousands of young children appearing on our border. We should do everything we can to welcome them, make them safe and install them with families that will help them become part the next great generation of Americans.
Consider the traditional arguments against illegal immigration: These youngsters aren't here to compete for jobs, so they're not going to drive down wages or take employment away from current citizens. Assimilation won't be a problem, since they're arriving young enough for America to make Americans out of them.
And the idea that we should turn them away simply because they're here illegally? That illegality is a choice we've made, and not necessarily for good reasons. We can unmake it for better reasons. Otherwise, the argument is a tautology in the service of cruelty.
Which leaves one possible good argument against allowing all those youngsters in the United States: That they'll cost the country an enormous amount of money spent on care and services that we should be spending on American citizens instead.
Maybe. But we're already spending a lot of that money keeping those children in camps, behind fences, as they wait their turn to go through a bureaucracy. We can make that money work for America's future, or we can toss it down a rathole as we turn away youngsters who need what we can offer and who can pay us back through public service and a revitalized economy for decades to come.
For decades to come, America will be judged for how it treats these children — children! — who have fled evil and deprivation in their own lands. If we truly are as an exceptional a country as we tell ourselves, we will become amazing hosts to them. They deserve our love, our generosity and our willingness not to be as stupid and hard-hearted as our politics sometimes make us. It's time to welcome these children to their new home.
BEN BOYCHUK: One of the most reprehensible trends of the past generation is the use and abuse of children as political props. What's happening along the southern US border may be a humanitarian crisis, but it's a crisis of our own making. This child abuse needs to stop.
How did this happen? First, President George W. Bush in 2008 signed a law aimed at combating trafficking of children. But the law has had the opposite effect, as families pay thousands of dollars to smugglers to get their children to the border.
The law gave hefty new protections to kids entering the United States alone, as long as they weren't from Canada or Mexico. It's no accident that most of the children who have arrived in the past two years are from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
And what makes the past two years so significant? In 2012, then-Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano released a memo claiming "prosecutorial discretion" in exempting nearly one million illegal immigrants — all minors — from deportation.
The message was unambiguous: If you're under 18, and you arrive in the United States alone and in one piece, odds are, you'll get to stay.
We were once a nation built by immigrants. It's true. And we need immigrants today. But we also need educated people, people with skills — people with something to give. We do not tens of thousands of destitute children sent here by their families and abetted by their governments on rumors of free housing, free education and free health care.
"It's just obvious," the late, great free-market economist Milton Friedman famously said, "you can't have free immigration and a welfare state."
Is our immigration and naturalization system hopelessly broken? No question. Fact is, some 4.5 million people around the world are waiting for their legal opportunity to enter the United States. They've done everything the law requires, yet they languish because our bureaucracy is ill-equipped to meet the demand.
Americans are a compassionate people. We should feed these children, shelter them, clothe them and treat the sick as needed. And then we should send them back to their home countries where they belong.