The 11-year-old boy got lost in the desert, far from home. Gilberto Francisco Ramos Juarez, from Guatemala, was wandering alone in Texas, near the Mexican border. He had the telephone number of his brother in Chicago written on the inside of his belt buckle but apparently had no idea how to find him.
His decomposing body was found by police this week on the day America’s immigration reforms collapsed, with President Obama attacking the Republicans for failing to approve changes, despite earlier pledges.
Mr Obama now faces the dilemma of how far to act alone through presidential executive order, which would inflame Congress.
He has very little to lose, and in the longer term, the Republicans will suffer with increasingly influential Latino voters if they do not deliver on immigration reform.
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Gilberto’s story illustrates the need to revamp the system, with 52,000 unaccompanied children crossing the border since October in what Mr Obama has called a humanitarian crisis.
“Down here, finding a decomposed body . . . we come across them quite often,” Eddie Guerra, the Hidalgo County sheriff, said.
Unaccompanied children are allowed by American law to cross the border if they come from any country except Mexico. They are sent there by parents, who pay for them to be accompanied to the border, knowing that they will be allowed in.
Republicans blame the influx on Mr Obama’s immigration policies, which they say are too weak, resulting in facilities in south Texas that are so overcrowded that officials are trying to find new sites in the north of the state to house the children.
Reforms have ground to a halt amid divisions within the Republican party. A year ago, Republicans in the Senate passed a $30 billion (£17.4 billion) package of measures that would have created one of the most heavily guarded borders on earth. However, it has been blocked because Tea Party conservatives object to some of the other dramatic changes, which would see America’s 11 million undocumented illegal immigrants allowed to apply for citizenship and make it easier for foreigners to work legally.
The Republican speaker John Boehner has ruled out a vote this side of the November mid-terms, even though he recruited one of Washington’s most respected immigration analysts to help to shepherd through comprehensive reforms estimated to boost the economy by 4.8% and cut the deficit by $1.2 trillion over the next 20 years.
Ali Noorani, the executive director of the National Immigration Forum, which argues for the value of immigration, said: “The ideal goal is continuing to push Congress to move forward with new laws. The odds of that happening are incredibly long this year.”
Mr Obama vowed on Monday to use his powers to introduce reforms without legislation. He said he would be redeploying immigration resources to the border and has asked officials to come up with a package of changes.
It is expected that immigration officials will be instructed to concentrate on trying to detect drug smugglers or convicted violent criminals who are a threat to US security.
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Let us note some points.
(1) The legislation that is being stalled by the Republicans (only some of them, I might add) applies only to those who are already here. So bringing it up in the context of “people dying in the desert” is irrelevant.
(2) People who die in the desert trying to cross the border are in exactly the same category as people drowning trying to get to Europe in overcrowded, rickety boats.
In both cases, the flow would stop if the individuals involved knew they could not get through.
A consistent policy of turning back the boats (or using the “Australian solution”) would stop the drownings. The US needs to fence the entire US-Mexico border, after which no one would die in the desert.
(3) Obama is trying to ram things through even though he does not have the authority. He is doing this more and more. Worst president ever.
(4) Something makes no sense to me: the US is growing more and more friendly towards anyone who walks across the Mexican border. There are programs to give them driver licences, there “sanctuary cities” and so on. Yet, only a few years ago, Canadians were suddenly required to produce a passport to cross the northern border–for the first time.
Tourism that relied on cross-border traffic along the northern border dried up, in both Canada and the USA. (Because an American, although not requiring a passport to enter Canada, would require it when he tried to go back to America).
In general, visitors from the USA to Canada fell way off after this introduction of this law. I imagine that Canadian tourism to the USA declined in the same way.
Why did was the passport requirement ever put in place? It makes zero sense in view of the situation at the southern border. All it has done is hit the tourism industry on both sides of the border. The Canadian government protested but were ignored.