"There's nothing in the middle of the road but yellow stripes and dead armadillos," remarked Jim Hightower, who on his website bills himself, not extravagantly, as "America's #1 populist."
That applies to the USA's ongoing issue of illegal immigration, which ought to be settled- but won't- with either widespread deportation or a rapid process toward citizenship. However, it does not apply to a crisis, one in which well over 50,000 children from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala have crossed the border only since October 1.
Thanks to a Bush-era law, these youngsters cannot be driven back into Mexico or dropped by parachute into Tijuana, but rather must be turned over to the Department of Health and Human Services and sent to shelters or accommodating families while awaiting deportation hearings. This is not an ongoing issue, but a crisis, and one in which quick- and inevitably costly- action must be taken.
And so it was disappointing to hear this exchange between Chris Hayes and U.S. Representative Beta O'Rourke (D-Texas) on Tuesday's "All In":
HAYES: Let me ask you to weigh in on your colleagues from Texas, Senator John Cornyn, Henry Cuellar, another border representative, a Democrat.
They have introduced legislation that wouldn`t completely get rid of the process for these kids, but would give them essentially expedited review. There would be judges that would render a decision I think within a week and basically be able to make a aye or nay decision. And if it`s nay, they get sent back.
Do you support that legislation?
O`ROURKE: I have a 7-year-old son, Ulysses. I can only imagine him having to appear before an administrator or immigration judge within a 72- hour period and determine whether he`s going to take an asylum or non- asylum track to petition for residency within this country when he`s fleeing violence, has maybe had his friends, his brothers, his sisters killed; he may, himself, have been threatened.
He`s just passed through a three-week grueling process to move up through the interior of Mexico to present himself for asylum at the U.S.- Mexico border. Absolutely not. The wrong way to go -- I know both men, Henry Cuellar, John Cornyn, good people with good hearts. I just think this is not the best thought-out proposals and would have some terrible unintended consequences for these kids who are fleeing violence right now.
Remember, these are kids, these are 7-year olds, these are 11-year olds, these are people who are leaving a situation that is intolerable by any measure. And by way of comparison, Nicaragua, which is the second poorest country in this hemisphere after Haiti has sent almost no children.
We`ve seen 2,000 family members in El Paso, not one single one of them has come from Nicaragua. This is a unique situation to Honduras, to Guatemala, to El Salvador. I think we need to respond accordingly.
You might have expected in this lengthy reply, or somewhere else in the interview, a suggestion from a progressive on how to deal with what some conservatives have rashly and inaccurately labeled an "invasion" but which is, nevertheless, an unprecedented situation. Instead, O'Rourke bleeds sympathy for the children and suggests (in response to a previous question) that "it also speaks to ultimately our need to reform this country`s immigration laws."
Exploiting the crisis by arguing for comprehensive immigration reform brings to mind the ludicrous charges of a few ultra conservatives that the problem is contrived, manufactured by President Obama to make urgent what Democrats call "reform" and Republicans call "amnesty." It does so even though efforts to pass immigration reform are unrelated to the current crisis, in which some of the entrants are refugees and some merely illegal immigrants.
O'Rourke apparently opposes the Cuellar/Cornyn legislation, but the Texas congressman could have used the occasion to offer a challenge to Representative Cuellar and Senator Cornyn, who have introduced legislation which
would require children looking to stay in the U.S. to file a legal claim with an immigration court within a week of being screened by Department of Health and Human Services officials. A judge would then have 72 hours to make a determination about whether the child is eligible to stay in the U.S.; if not, the child will be sent back to their family in their home country.
The bill also calls for 40 new immigration court judges, as part of the plan to expedite a process that some have called too slow to deal with the buildup along the border.
Forty new immigration judges working eight hours a day (less one hour for lunch, a short break for most judges) for four weeks would yield would yield 1020 hours from the bench. If the average judge handled (realistically) two cases an hour, that would result in resolution for little more than 2000 children, hardly enough even with existing judges to do more than put a dent in the problem. As it is, the immigration court backlog is staggering.
Consequently, O'Rourke and like-minded Democrats should call the bluff of Republicans and Democratic Lites (such as Cuellar) by matching their bid and raising them four-fold. Confront the GOP, which has demonstrated its lack of concern by balking at President Obama's request for $3.7 billion.
With forty new judges grossly insufficient, progressives/liberals can call for 160 new judges. Or 200. Or beyond. Henry Cuellar, in particular, is determined to call this a "crisis" (as on Fox News, video below). Skeptics should challenge him to put resources where his mouth is by proposing legislation that would realistically address the situation. Then we could find out what is real- and what is posturing and preening for the camera.