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Rick Perry on Child Refugees: Deport ‘Em All

by Published on
Rick Perry at a press conference in Weslaco.
Office of the Governor
Rick Perry at a press conference in Weslaco

Rick Perry has a plan for the thousands of refugee children streaming across the border from Mexico and Central America: Deport them at once. At a congressional hearing in McAllen today, the governor did his best to sound compassionate while calling on Congress and President Obama to further militarize the border and enact mass deportations of children despite laws and rights protecting refugees and asylum-seekers.

“People think allowing them to stay in the U.S. is doing them a favor,” he said. “It is not. Allowing them to remain here will only encourage the next group of individuals.”
Perry downplayed the deteriorating situation in Honduras (presidential coup in 2009, homicide capital of the world), Guatemala and El Salvador—the source of most of the unaccompanied minors—instead blaming Obama and drug cartels for the exodus of kids.  And he nodded, ever so slightly, at some of the wilder notions of what’s driving the surge in child refugees.

“I truly believe this is manufactured to some degree by the drug cartels,” Perry said.

He went on to suggest that U.S. policy toward the influx of unaccompanied minors should be a response to the drug cartels’ “change in tactics.”

As with many things border- and drug war-related, Perry’s glib solutions had a perverse, ironic logic. By most published accounts, including hundreds of interviews with unaccompanied minors conducted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the child refugees are fleeing abuse and extreme violence, much of it cartel-related, in their home countries. (Many of them, it’s important to note, are seeking asylum in countries other than the U.S.; according to the UN, Mexico and more stable Central American nations registered a 435 percent increase in asylum claims from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras between 2009 and 2012.) Is the best way to fight the cartels to deport kids back to the cartel-plagued communities they just fled?

Experts contend that deporting them back to their homes could lead to certain death or conscription by the cartels. “This expedited deportation thing will kill children,” said Amy Thompson, a social work Ph.D. student at the University of Texas who authored a 2008 report on unaccompanied minors. “Children will die because of this.”

Thompson said that U.S. policy on how to treat unaccompanied minors largely takes a law enforcement approach that emphasizes deportation and not the safe repatriation of kids following child welfare standards. The U.S. does little to ensure that when children are sent home that their return is coordinated and safe.

Still, minors from countries other than Mexico have some extra protections under the 2008 reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. Today, congressmen at the hearing suggested that the law needed to be overhauled by making it easier to deport the Central American kids without looking closely at their situation. Children, some as young as four or five, would have to convince border agents that they deserve to have a chance to stay. Such a change would be along the lines of what Obama is asking from Congress. Gutting it would mean reversing decades of work by child welfare advocates to secure additional consideration for the most vulnerable immigrants.

But Republicans at the committee hearing today went even further, trying to conflate the child refugee crisis with a larger narrative about sealing the borders from terrorists and cartels.

Perry struck what might be termed a “si se puede!” (yes we can) tone, repeatedly telling the committee that he “truly believes” the border can be sealed.

“You can secure the border,” Perry said. ” We can do this…We’ve got the resources.”

That line was echoed by other Texans on the committee, including chairman Michael McCaul (R-Austin), who said, “Now’s the time to finally secure the border.”

No matter that apprehensions of those crossing illegally are at historic lows or that refugees are a protected class different from immigrants.

Immigrant advocates and some Democrats on the committee tried to make that distinction.

“These children have been forcibly displaced,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Houston). “A massive deportation or detention policy for children is not a humane thing to do.”

But Perry’s solution has a seductive simplicity. The talisman of sealing the border—just like winning the War on Drugs or defeating terrorism—is so powerful because it can never be accomplished; the militaristic tools to achieve the elusive 100-percent security often exacerbate the problem; and every failure to achieve the goal only leads to a doubling-down. Even a child can understand that.

Forrest Wilder, a native of Wimberley, Texas, is associate editor of the Observer. Forrest specializes in environmental reporting and runs the “Forrest for the Trees” blog. Forrest has appeared on Democracy Now!, The Rachel Maddow Show and numerous NPR stations. His work has been mentioned by The New York Times, the Washington Post, the New Yorker, Time magazine and many other state and national publications. Other than filing voluminous open records requests, Forrest enjoys fishing, kayaking, gardening and beer-league softball. He holds a bachelor's degree in anthropology from the University of Texas at Austin.

  • 1bimbo

    what about nigerian children, syrian children, afghani children.. all victims of violent nations with tyrannical corrupt leaders.. should the US house all the world’s children from other countries festering in corruption, violence, poverty and socialism? if so, watch our country transform into a nation festering in corruption violence, poverty and socialism from sea to shining sea.. happy independence day, america!!

    • PositivelyProgressive

      The issues you raise merit consideration, but your suggestion that our country will “transform into a nation festering in corruption violence, poverty and socialism from sea to shining sea” is absurd. To my knowledge, there is no urgent humanitarian crisis involving an influx of children from Nigeria, Syria, or Afghanistan…the problem to solve is the one we confront, not the imaginary one you wish to use as an excuse to wash our hands of the real one.

      • 1bimbo

        the ‘problem to solve’ is out of control illegal immigration disproportionately favoring one country.. the hundreds of children kidnapped by boko haram don’t consider themselves ‘imaginary’.. failed border control and amnesty propaganda is no good ‘excuse’ to wash your hands of rule of law..

        • PositivelyProgressive

          Nice try, Bimbo, but the children kidnapped by Boko Haram are not slipping into the U.S. The kidnappings are horrible, but utterly unrelated to our border security; your argument is a non sequitur. The first problem to solve may be elimination of the self-satisfied smugness and sense of entitlement of amoral trolls like you.

    • Jeff Wagner

      They’re escaping violence. It’s too bad you’re too ignorant to have understood that part.

    • Norm Cooper

      “if so, watch our country transform into a nation festering in corruption, violence, poverty and socialism from sea to shining sea,” Bimbo where have you been? Your reference to socialism is bogus. This country has all these attributes your naming. Political offices are now going to the highest bidder, guns everywhere, poverty abounds while the rich get richer, and the tea-baggers along with their para-military off-shoots represent the latest version of the neo-nazis. Remember when you build that wall to keep others out, it can (and will) be used to keep you in.

      • 1bimbo

        wake up.. you’re foolishness is destroying america.. then again, i now believe that’s the goal of the donkey party

    • Marty B.

      Bimbo (good moniker anyway) go live in one of those countries for a while and experience first-hand what it’s like. You’d change your silly tune in a heartbeat. Yes, the US was created, and should continue to serve, as a haven for people persecuted and suffering from “violence and poverty”. That was our initial “mission statement” if I recall my history correctly, and if I understand correctly what the Statue of Liberty is all about. Anyway – where did your ancestors come from, and WHY did they come? Want to share that? Or did you very conveniently forget?

      • 1bimbo

        why don’t you visit the 5th ward in houston, west detroit, east LA or englewood in chicago.. our own country is bleeding from within and you advocate for our poor to fester while violating rule of law in immigration for political points.. you failed.. democrats are finished

      • AsleepNoMore

        It is no accident that we placed the Statue of Liberty, with her welcoming message, next to Ellis Island – the point of entry and screening facility for LEGAL immigration.

  • Jeff Wagner

    And Rick Perry calls himself a Christian? Jesus would weep.

  • omniohl

    Perry is soulless, heartless and worthless!

    • Marty B.

      And that’s putting it very mildly.

  • bill holston

    our agency provides legal services for these children, as we have for over 10 years. The children in fact come from all over the world. Just last year we helped a young girl from Eritrea escape the violence plaguing her country.

    • 1bimbo

      meanwhile forget about the children in houston’s 5th ward, east LA, detroit, chicago and new york city.. let’s just pour these illegals right on top of them.. problem solved

      • Walter Goerlitz

        The up side of this is the gang wars will increase. Blacks ad Hispanics war with each other in California constantly. Sadly the blacks have lost some of their feral nature since becoming welfare pimps.
        Maybe this could help.
        Lots of dead on both sides sounds like a win win!.

  • Walter Goerlitz

    He is correct. Allowing these feral undereducated parasites into the country only helps the socialist democratic party and weakens America.