Denial and wishful thinking won’t solve the Central American refugee crisis

A little more honesty would go a long way toward dealing with the refugee crisis the United States now faces.

The influx of tens of thousands of would-be migrants from Central American – many of them children – has been met with denial on multiple levels.

The Obama administration apparently ignored early signs of the human wave. Lately it’s been evasive about where it is placing refugees. Some Democrats in Congress and immigration advocates are more or less saying there’d be no problem if the United States simply rolled out the welcome mat. Many conservatives are blind to the magnitude of human distress behind the flood of refugees.

There’s no excuse for the secrecy the Department of Health and Human Services has employed in finding housing for the children involved. Communities have been suddenly discovered that HHS has been stealthily preparing local buildings for hundreds of young Central Americans. In Pierce County, neighbors of Joint Base Lewis-McChord were left for weeks to guess at the implications of placing refugees at the JBLM, which may or may not happen.

People have legitimate questions about burdens on school systems, tropical diseases and other feared local impacts. Federal officials must be forthright in addressing those concerns – and forthright about where they are creating housing. Furtiveness implies danger and guarantees backlash.

Advocates for these children have the best of motives, but many talk as if welcoming them all – and their relatives to boot – were a practical solution. Even the perception of a welcome will inevitably spur more waves of Central Americans to set out for Texas. On the way, they risk kidnapping, slavery and rape as they cross some of the most violent places in Mexico.

Given the history of sex-trafficking in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, minors should be given fast-tracked hearings to determine if they qualify for asylum. Congress must fund the necessary expansion of immigration courts. But many or most of the would-be migrants are making the trek chiefly to escape poverty. It’s a harsh truth, but the United States cannot accommodate every hungry person who wants to move here. Poverty in Central America must be fixed in Central America.

That doesn’t justify compassion fatigue. Appalling living conditions drive Hondurans, Guatemalans and Salvadorans to the United States. Although refugees from rural areas tend to be fleeing poverty, migrants from cities tend to be also fleeing pervasive violence.

Honduras – the chief exporter of refugees – has the highest murder rate on Earth. Like El Salvador and Guatemala, it is plagued with human trafficking, forced prostitution and forced conscription into gangs. Law enforcement – where it exists – is outgunned and overwhelmed by drug-trafficking armies.

The impact of the flood of refugees should make it obvious that this is a U.S. problem, not just a Central American one. And the United States does share some moral responsibility for their problems: This country’s insatiable appetite for cocaine fuels much of the drug-trafficking violence south of our border.

Central American leaders have called for what amounts to a Marshall Plan for Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. No single nation can fix countries this broken, but the United States – together with international organizations and other Latin American nations – can help. The sooner the better.