There’s A Refugee Crisis Right Here In America That Nobody Is Talking About

by John Haltiwanger
Getty Images

There's a refugee crisis occurring along the US border no one seems to be paying attention to.

At the moment, when you hear the word "refugee" it likely conjures images of Syrians on plastic boats, desperate to reach Europe.

The plight of these individuals certainly merits attention, but there's also a significant number of refugees from Central America fleeing violence and persecution, desperate to reach the US. Many are unaccompanied minors.

The Obama administration has vocally endorsed pragmatic and tolerant policies surrounding immigrants and refugees.

But its actions don't align with its rhetoric.

President Obama has deported more immigrants than any other president. Since he took office, over 2.5 million people have been deported. And it doesn't appear like this will slow down any time soon.

Federal immigration enforcement agents recently arrested 121 migrants for deportation, including women and children, after they failed to win asylum in immigration courts.

These people fled horrific violence, persecution and poverty in places like Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, yet the US government is apparently content with sending them back to these hellish conditions.

The Obama administration argues these people must be deported as to deter others from making the dangerous journey north. It also contends it has a duty to uphold the law.

What's really happening here is yet another reminder America's immigration system is exceptionally inefficient and decidedly inhumane. Instead of addressing the issues that led people to flee their countries, the US is sending vulnerable individuals right back into danger.

In November 2014, the president announced the US would no longer make it a priority to deport undocumented immigrants without criminal records. As The Atlantic aptly notes, it wasn't widely understood this decision only pertained to individuals who arrived prior to 2014.

And over the past year or so, there's been a surge in the number of Central Americans attempting to journey from their home countries to the US. This is often due to the very real threat of rampant gang and gender-related violence.

As UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres described it,

The violence being perpetrated by organized, transnational criminal groups in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and certain parts of Mexico has become pervasive. The dramatic refugee crises we are witnessing in the world today are not confined to the Middle East or Africa. We are seeing another refugee situation unfolding in the Americas.

But the Obama administration's approach to this situation, and its treatment of the individuals involved, strongly contrasts with reality.

In the words of Gregory Chen, the director of advocacy for the American Immigration Lawyers Association,

[The Obama administration] is treating a refugee crisis as an immigration enforcement issue.

The president took a very humane and pragmatic position on the Syrian refugee crisis, standing by his decision to accept 10,000 for resettlement in spite of heavy criticism. But he's not affording the same logic to the plight of Central American refugees, and they're being deported or prevented from entering the US in large numbers.

The US government is actually paying the Mexican government millions of dollars to prevent Central American refugees from reaching the border to claim asylum.

As Christopher Galeano, who's been researching the subject in regard to human rights, told the New York Times,

The US government is sponsoring the hunting of migrants in Mexico to prevent them from reaching the US. It is forcing them to go back to El Salvador, Honduras, to their deaths.

But this isn't stopping people from trying to reach the border, which the US government doesn't seem to understand.

As the New York Times editorial board put it,

The administration needs to recognize that this problem cannot be solved in backward fashion... Protection, due process and outstretched arms for terrorized families: That’s an approach consistent with America’s laws and values, not agents at the door, on the hunt for mothers and children.

Indeed, these people need help, and they are at America's doorstep. But we're just not hearing about them.

At the moment, most of the news we see surrounding refugees involves the debate over whether or not the US should help individuals fleeing predominately Muslim countries.

Following the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, many began to contend it's too dangerous for the US to accept refugees from the Middle East, fearing they could have ties to terrorism.

Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump went as far as arguing we should ban all Muslim immigration to the US.

It didn't help matters when two refugees in the US were arrested on charges of terrorism on January 8th. Following this, politicians critical of President Obama's plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees immediately argued it was evidence they were in the right.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R), who has fervently opposed refugee resettlement, said,

This is precisely why I called for a halt to refugees entering the US from countries substantially controlled by terrorists. I once again urge the President to halt the resettlement of these refugees in the United States until there is an effective vetting process that will ensure refugees do not compromise the safety of Americans and Texans.

Perhaps someone should inform Governor Abbot only five of the 784,000 refugees the US accepted since 9/11 have been charged with terrorism, including the two men in question.

The fear mongering and xenophobic rhetoric surrounding Muslim refugees from places like Syria and Iraq is dangerous and misleading. Not to mention, it has driven media coverage toward only focusing on Middle Eastern refugees and the major threat they purportedly pose.

Meanwhile, the media also helps perpetuate the notion every single immigrant who crosses the southern border is Mexican, illegal and linked to criminal activity.

But much like the refugees fleeing Syria and other parts of the Middle East, the vast majority of those emanating from Central America are not bringing crime and violence with them -- they're running from it.

What we are currently witnessing is a global refugee crisis, it's not limited to any particular region.

With that said, the US needs to acknowledge what's happening along its border, and move forward in a practical and compassionate way.