For both humanitarian reasons and to defuse the current and heavy negative spin on immigration law enforcement, the administration must move quickly to be seen as both a benevolent entity as well as a police force. It should go out of its way in an effort to change the terms of the current conversation about the Central Americans.
Let's face it, the former family-separation policy is a terrible one on its merits and is close to disastrous regarding broader efforts to enforce the immigration law, most of which do not involve the breaking up of families.
Let's hope that after Judge Dolly Gee, who is presiding over the Flores settlement, shoots down the president's executive order saying that a previous administration accepted an agreement that children could not be separated from their families for more than 20 days — as she is sure to do — that the president does not restore family separation policies as a bargaining tool.
My sense is that both the judge's decision and the president's resulting reaction are all too predictable.
Let's turn to the policy of detaining whole families. When whole families arrive illegally, it is absolutely essential to the enforcement of the immigration law that they be detained. This, however, does not help the image of the restrictionist position in the short run.
So the government should take a variety of steps to show that it is dealing fairly, even imaginatively, with a detainee population that is fated to be with us for many months, and perhaps a few years in some cases.
The suggestions in this posting assume that the government will do its best to house the detainees, to hire more immigration judges, and to seek changes in the asylum law that currently encourages people from Central America to come to our southern border.
But all of this will take time, and meanwhile there is a large population (idolized by parts of the media) that will be with us for a while. What we do to, and for, them should show America at its best. But none of these actions should encourage further illegal migration — it is a dicey balance at best.
Everything being proposed assumes that most of the Central Americans will have to leave — some perhaps to other countries — and that the United States has done smart things to make that re-location as painless as possible. The goal should be to equip the former detainees to become successful inhabitants of a place other than in the United States, in most cases their home nations. Some of our suggestions are made, frankly, with the hope that these actions will lead to more positive press coverage.
We are also assuming that keeping the detainees detained will be expensive, even without the actions we propose, and that cutting short their stays will, on the other hand, save the Treasury many millions of dollars. It will be far easier to raise money from Congress for these activities than it will be to get billions for the wall.
This posting deals with health matters; others will touch on the education of the children in detention, training some of the adults to be agents of change after they return to their home countries, vocational training in skills needed in the tropics, possible subsidized relocations of some to third countries, and other detainee-related subjects.
Health. I suspect that this is a pretty healthy population. They were not scooped up from refugee camps and flown here with governmental help; they all had to make it across the length of Mexico on their own. This presumably means that there are few badly disabled or very sick people among them. But three health-related activities should be started as soon as possible.
The first is a universal health screening by nurses and physicians, to identify current and potential problems, and to record these data both on a government-run electronic database, as well as on a series of cards and or discs that can be enclosed in waterproof envelopes that can be worn around people's necks. This process will identify any diseases that the detainees may be carrying with them and to put them on track for needed treatment. Some screening like this already takes place, if not the suggested ways of recording the results.
The second step is a series of vaccinations, a set designed particularly for people living in the tropics. Each of the shots should be recorded in the health record systems outlined above. The vaccinations are not mandatory, but the alternative would be immediate deportation for everyone in the family. The president will be able to brag, truthfully, some weeks or months from now that the detainees are by far the healthiest, or at least the most vaccinated, of all Central Americans.
The third phase would be, in needed cases, operations for both emergent and some ongoing conditions. These procedures, particularly emergency ones, might well be the subject of press attention, of the United States as a caring government. If, in some cases, the procedure is available in the United States, but not in the country of origin, that should be noted.
We might also intervene — as the home countries had not done — in non-emergency cases, such cleft-lip or club feet, in which not very complex matters could be handled quickly, with or without publicity, and would provide life-long advantages to the individuals. Efforts might be made to recruit surgeons, nurses, and others to handle these matters as pro bono efforts. (Similarly some of the vaccines might be secured from drug companies willing to help, perhaps for a tax break.)
Some or perhaps most of what has been suggested above may already be in the works, particularly for those headed to military facilities.
This is the first of a series of postings on our government and the detainees.