Stranded children's plight must spur immigration changes

2014-06-11T00:00:00Z Stranded children's plight must spur immigration changes Arizona Daily Star
June 11, 2014 12:00 am

The nation’s eyes are on Southern Arizona as we confront two aspects of our country’s confusing and broken immigration system.

The first is the case of Daniel Neyoy Ruiz, a 14-year Tucson resident who sought sanctuary at a Tucson church as he fought deportation to his native Mexico.

He received the good news Monday that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have granted him a one-year stay on his deportation order. The stay, which can be renewed, allows him to get a work permit. He had lived with his wife and American-born son inside Southside Presbyterian Church since May 13.

Public pressure and publicity about his case — a father with no criminal record, who is active in his church and community and who has paid income taxes for the past 10 years — no doubt prompted the federal government to take another look at his case.

While we commend immigration officials for doing the right thing in his case, we must not forget that Neyoy Ruiz and his family are emblematic of thousands of families with members who are in the country without legal status.

“It’s a larger story because Daniel is every man,” said his attorney, Margo Cowan. “He makes us think of the fathers who left because they didn’t know what else to do, the fathers who are in hiding. He makes us think of the children who wonder every night if their father is coming home.”

Which leads us to the crisis also born of U.S. immigration policy and an overloaded system.

Hundreds of children, some as young as 3, are living in a Border Patrol warehouse in Nogales, Ariz.

Violence and pressure from gangs in Central America are prompting families to send their children north to try to cross illegally into the United States. This has always happened, but the numbers have spiked and thousands of unaccompanied minors have been apprehended by Border Patrol.

Facilities in Texas, where the children were taken into custody, are overloaded, leading the Department of Homeland Security to ship nearly 800 youths to Nogales until they can be reunited with family or moved to more permanent shelters.

Volunteers are responding with donations of toys, clothing and supplies. The state government is providing assistance, too.

President Obama has called the crisis an “urgent humanitarian situation,” which is an understatement. There is the immediate situation, how to properly house, feed and care for children who are here without parents. There are also issues of how to make sure they’re not being trafficked, and to find and connect them with their families in the U.S. or their home country.

The influx of children traveling alone raises questions — how dangerous and hopeless life in these countries must be if sending a child north alone, often with a smuggler, to illegally enter the U.S. seems like a parent’s best choice.

The home countries have much work to do to educate their citizens about the dangers and reality of the journey. A smuggler’s promise of an easy trip is a lie, but one a desperate family may believe.

These children, no doubt frightened and confused, are the byproduct of a U.S. immigration policy and practice that is out-of-date and fatally flawed.

Every member of Congress and the president bears some responsibility for the broken immigration system. Legislation has been put forward numerous times, none of it perfect but at least offering a starting point. Each effort has been met with refusal from politicians who would rather shout “no amnesty!” than deal with the complex, fluid and frustrating reality of illegal immigration.

The migrants coming from Central America and Mexico aren’t only coming to the U.S., they are fleeing from dangerous and economically futile circumstances. These problems aren’t easily fixed, and Congress cannot solve other countries’ internal strife.

But Congress can address the millions of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. Members can find a way for immigrants to legally come to work and return home, for undocumented immigrants to get on a path to legal status or citizenship, and to halt the deportations of people who are in the country illegally but who have created good, solid lives in our communities.

Neyoy Ruiz, the migrant children in Nogales and the millions of undocumented immigrants living in the shadows in our country are all pieces of an immense and complicated puzzle that, when it is finally addressed, will benefit not only migrants seeking a better life, but our nation.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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