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July 27, 2014
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Publisher's Notebook: Let humanity guide how we handle the children coming to the U.S. illegally

There’s no question we need to control our borders. Citizenship in the United States of America has a significant value and it must be earned, not stolen.

It’s why we have an immigration process.

As much as the U.S. is bad mouthed abroad, someone reminded me that we are still the envy of the world.

“If they opened all borders in the world for one day, allowing anyone to enter any country they choose, the line to enter the United States would stretch across an ocean,” he said.

If this country is so horrible, why do people want in? And, once they’re here, why don’t they want to leave?

I get a little offended when some suggest that we ought to just open the borders for unfettered access because it also suggests there is no value in being a U.S. citizen.

And, before I forget, Mexico should shut up about our immigration policies. Last I checked it was a felony to enter Mexico illegally and those who do are fortunate to simply be deported. Often they are raped, murdered or robbed by corrupt Mexican police.

It’s why Guatemalans are running through — and not staying in — Mexico. In fact, Mexico recently cut a deal to allow Guatemalans on their way north to the U.S. 72 hours to make it.

“You want to go through our country to get to the U.S., fine. You have three days and there is a fee.”

You would think they’d be working on ways to keep their own citizens at home; maybe improve conditions, provide opportunities — you know, the stuff legitimate governments are supposed to do.

At the same time we need to remember that many of these people who are literally dying to get into this Greatest Nation On Earth are children simply looking for a better way of life, and who can blame them for that?

Isn’t that what we all want for our children?

And a “better way of life” for a child from Guatemala doesn’t take much.

Life in Guatemala today is worth around $12. That’s how much it costs to hire someone to kill a neighbor, or enemy.

While the government protects the elite, gangs rule Guatemala and have for some time now, a result of years of civil unrest.

“Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, the so-called Northern Triangle of Central America, are among the poorest and most dangerous countries in the hemisphere,” read a recent story in the L.A. Times. “Plagued by ruthless street gangs and a growing presence of Mexican drug traffickers, the countries have seen homicide rates grow by 99 percent over the last decade, with the current rate five times that of the United States.”

A recent story in the New Republic outlined the options many of these children face.

“Men with guns do what they want and take what they want,” read the story. “Your options are to buy your own security and gunmen; join a gang yourself, or leave.”

And leaving is almost as dangerous as staying.

The trip to the U.S. border is roughly 2,000 miles of hell. No airport lounge. No chance to complain about long lines for the TSAs, or back-row airline seats, or how you have to pay for your Pepsi.

These children come by raft, the tops of rusted rail cars and with paid “coyotes” who are as likely to rape you, rob you, or kill you as they are escort you safely across the border.

Not sure I could survive a journey like that and I’m a full-grown man who has survived some pretty harrowing things in my 63 years.

The debate about these Guatemalan children who have been detained for seeking refuge in our country seems to center on whether they are refugees or “illegals.”

It reminds me of my own experience in a Vietnamese refugee camp after the fall of Saigon in the spring of 1975.

The camp was on the island of Guam and it was called Operation New Life, where we eventually housed and processed more than 100,000 Vietnamese who were fleeing South Vietnam. They knew that if they stayed they would be executed or imprisoned for helping us.

Most of them were eventually relocated to the mainland and have become contributing U.S. citizens.

Some of them lived in the “tent city” for several weeks waiting to find out if they would be sent to America, or put on a ship and sent back to Vietnam.

Thousands of those “refugees” were children who had lost their parents and had nothing but the clothes on their backs.

One morning I handed out boxes of toothbrushes and you would have thought from their faces that I was Santa Claus.

Recent polls suggest we are split on what to do with these children. Many think we should simply send them back and I can understand that opinion. Most of us are tired of paying the bills that come with the flood of illegal immigrants.

Where I get stuck is, “send them back to what?”

A refugee is defined as someone who “has been forced to leave his country in order to escape a war, persecution, or natural disaster.”

Not sure what you call a place where life can be taken for the price of a pizza, but it sounds like a war zone to me.

There is a reason we are the greatest nation on Earth and topping that list is our humanity. I happen to love children and believe we have an obligation to our children, no matter where they were born.

Jeff Ackerman is publisher of The News-Review. He can be reached at 541-957-4263 or jackerman@nrtoday.com.

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The News-Review Updated Jul 27, 2014 12:06AM Published Jul 27, 2014 12:06AM Copyright 2014 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.