The plight of Central American children fleeing violence is being used as yet another excuse for inaction on humane and sensible immigration reform that Americans crave.
While President Obama responded strongly to the situation by sending a message to families in Central America not to risk sending their children to the United States, anti-immigrant groups and the politicians that follow their cues are using this humanitarian crisis to argue that the border is out of control and that sensible reform should be delayed.
The anti-immigrant movement and some right wing media dismiss the high murder rates, gang violence, and poverty that drive these migrants to the United States and attempt to use this dire humanitarian situation to create a climate of fear around immigration.
The uptick in extreme anti-immigrant rhetoric around the issue has focused on portraying immigrants as a public health hazard. On June 20, William Gheen of the extreme anti-immigrant group Americans for Legal Immigration PAC (ALI-PAC) claimed that the children are coming to the U.S. “in disease and gang infested hoards.” D.A. King of the Georgia-based anti-immigrant group Dustin Inman Society (DIS) asserted on June 9 that refugees are “swarming the border and bringing disease.” On June 12, James Kirkpatrick, an author for the extreme anti-immigrant website VDARE, recently voiced his concerns about children carrying what he called a “diverse mix of exciting multicultural diseases.”
Many right-wing and far-right media outlets are also echoing the rhetoric of anti-immigrant groups. A June 22 article published on the far-right website News With Views bemoaned the “hordes of uneducated, unskilled and too many disease ridden coming from El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua.” Using the metaphors “flood” and “tidal wave” to talk about the children, Dr. Elizabeth Lee Vliet penned an article in the conspiracy-orientated right-wing online newspaper World Net Daily on June 17 warning that the children are carrying “diseases the U.S. had controlled or virtually eradicated: tuberculosis (TB), Chagas disease, dengue fever, hepatitis, malaria, measles, plus more.”
Aside from the disease rhetoric, anti-immigrant and right-wing media outlets are also espousing other extreme themes. Mackubin Thomas Owens, an author for National Review Online (NRO), penned an article for the publication on June 13 titled, “Camp of the Saints, 2014 Style?” In the article, Owens called for his audience to read the blatantly racist French novel Camp of the Saints in the wake of the humanitarian issue. Camp of the Saints tells the story of Indian immigrants coming to France by boat and taking over the country by violent means.
This message is not only bigoted and dehumanizing to these children; it distracts from the critical fact that the real solution to this humanitarian crisis is to reform our broken system. Only a functioning immigration system can truly foster orderly migration and allow authorities to determine which children are eligible to come to or remain in the U.S. and which are not.