The Border’s Flooding–With Children

Want tacos? According to a fast food ad, you should make a run for the border. Many Central Americans, however, simply want their kids to have a better, safer life, so minor offspring are sent on a trek for the U.S. border. As a result, vast quantities of unaccompanied minors have crossed the U.S./Mexico border, a boundary extending almost 2,000 miles, only to find themselves in the midst of chaos in their envisioned promised land. According to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, their situation is a “humanitarian crisis.”

The stream of immigrants crossing the U.S./Mexico border, mainly from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, is more aptly described as a flood. The numbers are on pace to hit a 20-year peak. Unaccompanied minors account for an astounding number of these illegal immigrants. In fact, the number of unaccompanied minors who illegally entered the U.S. in February reached the highest in U.S. history. But, this record is hardly anything any American wants to brag about.

Why has there been a sudden spike in children entering the U.S.? As with most things in life, multiple factors play a role. The immigration flood has been driving by the destruction left behind by two major hurricanes in 2020, the ravages of the pandemic, poverty, ongoing violence in home countries, food insecurity, and the relaxation in U.S. border enforcement with the change in administration. Unfortunately, while dire conditions were left behind in their home countries, crossing the U.S. border from Mexico has created chaos here. Surprise! They ran away from problems back home only to find new ones at their destination. Out of the frying pan and into the fire it seems.

But people of every age are affected by problems facing residents of Central American countries. Why are the huddled masses Uncle Sam is seeing made up of children? A change has occurred in the enforcement policy of the U.S. government. Instead of turning them away, the current administration is allowing children arriving on their own into this country to remain while a determination is made as to whether they have a legal claim to residency. Single adults and families are, however, turned away. Uncle Sam is implicitly saying, “Let the little children come to me.” Concern for these children is commendable, but the problem is what to do with them after they arrive. They have to go somewhere.

The U.S. isn’t faced with finding shelter for a just a handful of unaccompanied minors. No, sir. Throngs of these children have arrived numbering in the thousands. According to a March 10th report, the number of unaccompanied minors from Central America rose over 60% from January to February to a whopping 9,400. Border agents are continuing to apprehend more than 400 children a day. Clearly government agencies are capable of capturing these children, but can they care for them? Apparently not.

When unaccompanied minors are taken into custody by the border patrol, they are required to be held in government facilities until connected with a sponsor. Unfortunately, there’s no room at the inn. As of March 9th, 2,800 apprehended children were awaiting placement in shelters, but less than 500 beds were available. So where do they sleep? Well, the floor’s available, often without a mat. The children are being put in jail-like detention centers at 100% capacity in disregard of COVID-19 protocols. The U.S. is indeed the land of opportunity–to catch a dread disease.

The Border Patrol is only supposed to detain children for no more than three days. This guideline is out the window, along with COVID protocols, because there is basically no space for them in the Health and Human Services System. The skyrocketing numbers of unaccompanied minors has severely strained (broken?) the system’s capacity to hold youths.

What’s a government to do? Why not have a camp out with the kids? That would be fun, right? A tent facility in Donna, Texas is now holding over 1,000 youth and teens with the youngest child being age four. The tent facility boasts packed conditions. Sleeping on the floor is part of the fun of camping, you know. And who needs to shower? Once every 5 days or so is acceptable. NOT!

Thus, the U.S. government went back to the drawing board. Aha! Let’s hold kids indoors. That would be better. Voila! The Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in downtown Dallas has been designated a detention center for up to 3,000 immigrant teens, boys ages 15-17. What could possibly go wrong with having THOUSANDS of teen boys with nothing but time on their hands and lots of testosterone in their systems? Great plan!!

Part of the problem is that thousands of children are going into detention, but they aren’t coming out–at least not very quickly. HHS currently takes an average of 37 days to release a child. Why? Good question when, according to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, 80% of the children being detained have a relative in the U.S. and 40% have a parent. Attorneys with the National Center for Youth Law have complained that the government is failing to release detained children to immediate family members already in this country. I’m sure those families would welcome their young relatives with open arms. Why should 4,200 unaccompanied immigrant children be in custody as of this weekend when many blood relations are here in the U.S.?

The U.S. government is finally seeing the light and recognizing it has a “big problem” (ya think?) according to the White House press secretary. So what’s the proposed solution? Homeland Security has directed FEMA to help manage and care for the kids crossing the border. Sure, more bureaucracy; that’ll help.

While numbers tell the sad story of the plight of minor children who have made it to the U.S. alone, behind those numbers are precious little children. Each one represents a life already filled with trauma and struggle. If Americans truly care about them, then action needs to be taken to taken. And, that action needs to be a considered and workable plan to deal with those who are let into our country. It is unacceptable to merely open the floodgates to a stream of immigrant children with no viable plan in place to deal with their needs–housing, food, reunification with relatives, etc. If proper assistance cannot be provided, then perhaps a second look at the current immigration policy is needed.

Just WONDER-ing:

Were you aware of the magnitude of this flood of unaccompanied minors entering the U.S.? How desperate must parents be to send young children off to a foreign country alone? If the U.S. government cannot properly care for unaccompanied minors, should these children be allowed to remain in the country in the first place?

Going Down–What’s Up With Slowing U.S. Population Growth?

Feeling down after all 2020 threw at us? Morale isn’t the only thing that’s down in our country. The national population growth has headed south as well. What’s up with this decline?

In addition to votes being counted in 2020, people were too. While the number of votes for a presidential candidate are only a concern every four years, ongoing tabs are kept on the U.S. population. And when I say ongoing, I mean daily. The estimated population of the good ole USA was 332,108,584 as of January 26, 2021. Baby born? Add one. COVID-19 death? Subtract one.

While a number is interesting, the direction the numbers are going is even more interesting–and concerning. The U.S. population (which is equivalent to 4.27% of the worlds’ population for you number nerds) grew only 7% between 2010 and 2020 according to a Census Bureau estimate. This is the slowest national population growth since the Great Depression. What depressing news!

Recent figures reveal sixteen states have lost population. These unfortunate members of the union, in no particular order, are California, Massachusetts (thank heaven for spellchecker!), Ohio, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Alaska, Hawaii, Connecticut (spellchecker to the rescue again!), Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi (I knew how to spell that without spellchecker), New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and West Virginia. The biggest drops in population between mid-2019 to mid-2020 were in New York and California.

So what’s the big deal if the population dips in a particular state? Well, it is a big deal to the remaining residents of the state. Their state may lose federal funds and federal representation due to the dwindling numbers. New York, for example, is expected to lose a seat in Congress and an electoral vote. (Ah, yes, it always comes back to politics.) Accordingly, those states enumerated above will not consider themselves in a “Sweet Sixteen” list.

The number of residents in a few states are down, but how do the bean counters arrive at the conclusion that national population growth has slowed? I don’t know if there’s an app for it (there seems to be one for everything else), but there is a mathematical formula to use to determine annual growth; these figures can be compared from year to year. Fortunately there is no “x” in the formula, so I can understand it. Births – deaths + net migration = population growth. In layman’s terms, I’d explain that calculation as coming – going + showing up.

One of the reasons for the decline in U.S. population growth is low birth rates. According to a CDC report, the number of babies born in this country hit the lowest level in three decades in 2019. Oh, baby! Additionally, there has been a five year downward trend in the birth rate. Things are so bleak that Americans are not populating the country at a rate that allows replacement of the current population.

The total fertility rate in the U.S. for 2019 was 1.7 children per women. (Calling King Solomon to determine how we get 0.7 of a child.) That rate is below the required replacement fertility rate of around 2.1. (Who has these 0.1 children???) In fact, the fertility rate has been below replacement since 1971. Birth rates are sinking to an all time low. Yikes! Are those of us living in the U.S. the next to be placed on the endangered list?

There were significant drops in December 2020 births compared to 1 year earlier. So much for being on lockdown creating a baby boom….This large drop in birth rates is likely to continue for months because, as some sociologists believe, there is societal and economic uncertainty. Who wants to bring a bundle of joy into the world when there is unrest, tension, divisiveness, and financial woes? (Caveat: This presumes the couple was planning to get pregnant.)

But low birth rates are not the only culprit for the declining denizens of our country. Aging residents are adding to the loss. Who are these aging residents? Raising my hand as a proud member of the Baby Boom Generation. We BB’s are babies born from 1946 to 1964 during the post World War II baby boom. Based on 2019 figures, BB’s account for 23.5% of the U.S. population, an estimated 73 million people. About 10,000 BB’s a day reach age 65. In fact, by 2030, all BB’s will be 64 or older. Yup! The country is graying and not growing.

In addition to declining birth rates and aging residents, immigration cutbacks have fueled the downward trend in population growth. In 2016, our country counted around 1 million immigrants arriving; that number fell to 595,000 in 2018-2019. The smaller number of immigrants resulted not only from immigration restrictions put in place by the Trump administration, but from the perception of residents of other countries that the U.S. had fewer economic opportunities than before. Money makes the world go round and drives immigration.

And, of course, we’d be remiss in not pointing a finger of blame at COVID-19 for having a recent hand in this downturn. Mortality resulting from the pandemic bumped up the number of deaths and sent the population growth lower. So far, 430,000 individuals in the U.S. have lost their lives due to the virus with the 500,000 death mark rapidly approaching. (Wear a mask, wash your hands, and social distance, people!)

The pandemic has affected the number of births as well as the number of deaths. With bars and restaurants closed and social gatherings restricted, the opportunities for encounters leading to casual sex and unplanned pregnancies have plummeted. Well, perhaps that’s not an unwelcome result, eh?

Whether or not the figures produced by the 2020 Census expected in March provide an accurate population count, a specific number of residents isn’t the point. The key concept is that our nation’s population growth is slowing. But having less people in the U.S. to bicker with each other and damage our environment is not a bad result of lower population growth. Now if we could only manage downward population growth of the coronavirus.

Just WONDER-ing:

Do you see lower population growth in our country as a negative? Were you aware that BB’s were such a large portion of the U.S. population? Should immigration restrictions be eased to allow for more population growth in our country? Why or why not?

Counting On Census Controversy

How high can you count? If you are an enumerator (fancy schmanzy way of saying census taker) you better be able to count into the multi-millions since the current U.S. population is estimated to be around 329,000,000. What enumerators may or may not be able to find out in the upcoming 2020 census is how many citizens and non-citizens dwell in the U.S. Yes, sir;  count on census controversy on that question.

A census is nothing new. Why the Romans took one back in Biblical times when Joseph and his pregnant fiancée, Mary, had to go to Bethlehem for a head count. Unfortunately, the gospels provide no information about what questions the Roman enumerators asked. Perhaps it was a hot-button topic  whether the occupying Romans could ask if someone was a Roman citizen.

Flash forward to more modern times. Census taking was conducted in this country prior to the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. The Constitution itself recognized the need for a population count because the legislative framework called for was congressional districts based on the number of people in an area. Article 1, Section 2 called for an “Enumeration” (read “census”) every ten years; therefore, a decennial census is constitutionally mandated.

Of key importance is that the word “citizen” is not used when the Constitution refers to the enumeration of people for determining congressional districts. The U.S. Census is a population census aiming to get a bottom line tally of the actual number of people living in this country. But while all residents are people, not all residents are citizens. This distinction is where the controversy arises.

The Census Bureau, which falls under the Commerce Department, is gearing up for the 2020 census. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has proposed adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census: “Is this person a citizen of the U.S.?”. This question, the last one to be asked on the census form, will ask all those living in the United States if they are citizens.

While the question may appear to be simple, the possible answers are not simply “yes” or “no.” One of five possible answers can be selected. One is negative, i.e., not a citizen. The four “yes” answers determine if the citizen was:

  1. born in the USA (a great song title, don’t you think?);
  2. born in a U.S. territory such as Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, etc.;
  3. born abroad to a U.S. parent or parents; or
  4. naturalized to become a citizen.

Is anyone shocked that a government form would not have merely a “yes” or “no” response? I’m not.

A firestorm of controversy has erupted over this eight word question. And when I say firestorm, I mean lawsuits, (more) political bickering, and congressional inquiries. Court cases seeking to block the asking of .this citizenship question allege Commerce Secretary Ross intended to discriminate against minorities by adding the citizenship question to the 2020 census.

Is asking if a person is a citizen such a radical question? Well, not historically. A citizenship question was included in each U.S. census from 1890 to 1950. The question initially began to be asked during a time of high immigration to the U.S.. Moreover, the question has appeared on every American Community Survey since 2005. In addition, other countries such as Canada, Spain, and Germany ask a citizenship question on their version of a census.

Opponents of the citizenship question’s inclusion on the census argue that those who are in this country illegally would hesitate to participate in the census for fear the information given might be used against them. While this argument seems superficially appealing, it doesn’t really hold up under scrutiny. In the first place, the question asked is only if one is a citizen. It does not ask if a citizen is in the country legally. The “no” answer merely means that one is not a citizen. There are any number of individuals who are in this country as non-citizen legal residents (think green card) or long-term visitors.

In addition, who will use this information against the illegal immigrants? The information gathered in a census is confidential. It is illegal to share a census response with law enforcement or immigration agencies. Courts have upheld that no agency, including the FBI, has access to census data. (That’s legal access, of course.) Moreover, the so-called “72 Year Rule” (Public Law 95-416) provides that the government cannot release personally identifiable information about an individual to any other agency of individual for 72 years after it is collected for the census. Seventy-two years from now any illegal immigrant responding to the 2020 Census could be dead or perhaps have obtained citizenship by then..

Why is an accurate population count so crucial? The census figures are used for the distribution of federal funds and to draw state and congressional legislative districts. California’s attorney general opposed the proposed question noting that if the immigrant population is undercounted, then the census would be an incomplete count.  With an estimated 11 million immigrants in the U.S. illegally, an undercount could have a significant impact on states with large immigrant populations. California would be one of those states, hence the Golden State’s interest in the issue.

To date three federal judges (in New York, California, and Maryland) have ruled to block the administration’s plans to include the citizenship question on the 2020 Census. The addition of the question was challenged not only as discriminating against minorities but also for being added in violation of administrative law procedures. I don’t know for sure, but I speculate that the administrative procedures are as clear and easy to understand as tax laws and procedures.

Enter the Supremes! The Commerce Department sought, and was granted, an expedited appeal by the highest court in the land. Oral arguments were presented to the U.S. Supreme Court in April, and a decision is expected to be rendered by late June. Time is a factor here as the Census Bureau is facing a June 30th deadline to finalize the census questionnaire for printing.

With a Supreme Court decision looming, it means those on both sides of the issue are counting right now, and it isn’t residents or even citizens who are being counted. Opponents and proponents of the citizenship question are counting the possible votes on the Court based on how the oral arguments went and the track records of the justices. They are also counting down the days until a decision is reached. No matter what decision is rendered by the Supreme Court, you can count on one thing. The issue will remain controversial to citizens and non-citizens alike regardless of how the Supremes rule.

Just WONDER-ing:

Should the government have the right to ask those living in the country whether or not they are citizens? Is the historical use of a citizenship question in past censuses and surveys relevant to the use of such a question in our country today? How accurate is any census no matter what is asked?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hitting A Wall On The Wall

With the beginning of 2019, many have made resolutions while others have chosen a word for the year. While I have no inside information, I am fairly certain that President Trump’s word for the year is “wall,” and his resolution is to get one built on our country’s southern border with Mexico. But, as anyone not living under a rock is well aware, the president’s wall goal has hit the proverbial wall.

It’s not just any wall which our country’s 45th president desires to build. He wants a border wall which would run approximately 700 miles to limit the movement of non-citizens across the U.S. border. The structure is not to fence anyone in, but to keep illegal immigrants out. “Without a wall you cannot have border security,” President Trump asserts.

But without money, you cannot build a wall. So the president is seeking a approximately $5.6 billion (that’s billion with a “B”) towards the construction budget. The Democrats are only willing to give him a mere couple billion dollars though. As a result, a stalemate exists resulting in a partial shutdown of our government since December 22nd.

For want of a nail, a kingdom may have been lost. In our case, for want of a wall, government services have been lost. Currently about 800,000 government workers are either furloughed or working without pay. Nine out of fifteen federal departments are closed. Although I’m all for reducing the fat in our bloated government, I do feel sorry for those federal workers taking a hit in their wallets.  Hey, you can’t spell “wallet” without a “wall,” y’all!

And speaking of being hit in the wallet, yes, the IRS is affected by this impasse. 12% of IRS workers are toiling without pay. No refunds are being issued, and most of the IRS customer “service” support staff is furloughed. Considering how long you have to wait on hold to ever speak to an IRS “service” support person on the phone, I wonder if anyone would even notice the ongoing furlough. On the bright side, everyone can breathe a sigh of relief that those scam IRS calls threatening you with jail will be put on hold because no one will fall for them given the circumstances.

But safety first, folks. Around 420,000 employees of the FBI, DEA, BATFE, Coast Guard, and various correctional and law enforcement officers are on the job without pay. Makes me a tad nervous, I’ll admit. Are we going to get what we are paying for from these employees? Yikes!

As the wall impasse drags on, various suggestions have been floated as to how to resolve the situation. For example, erecting steel barriers rather than constructing a masonry wall might be less expensive. But are steel barriers really a “wall?” Not according to Merriam Webster’s dictionary which clearly identifies a wall as a “masonry structure.” Perhaps a wall is in the eyes of the beholder.

Another solution President Trump has mentioned is declaring a national emergency and having the military erect the wall. This idea is superficially appealing. Wouldn’t any military family rather have their loved one recalled from deployment to Afghanistan in order to help build a wall? I’m no military expert, but I’m fairly certain bricks are less dangerous than bombs and the Taliban. Moreover, having a military member learn a skill such as masonry would certainly aid in finding a job when transitioning to civilian life one military service has ended.

All this back and forth talk about how to build a wall and how to pay for it overlooks a basic question–Are border walls effective? Let’s consider the history of border walls. The Great Wall of China is a border wall which was erected to protect the Empire of China from powers to the north. Well, that wall is still standing and China still exists. At least that item made in China has worked and lasted. On the other hand, there’s the Berlin Wall. My younger readers may say, “What Berlin Wall?” My point exactly. That wall, constructed by the Soviet Union to divide Berlin into NATO and Warsaw Pact zones, is no longer in existence.

But that was then and this is now. Will a wall on our southern border actually solve the illegal immigrant problem? My educated guess is that the answer is a resounding “no.” Whether or not we need to make American great again, in the eyes of those making a run for our border, America is great. Sure, our country has its problems, but it is a heck of a lot safer and offers many more opportunities for those living in countries located to the south of us.

While I in no way condone taking illegal actions to get into the U.S., I can understand why people are doing so. If the choice is Door A where you or your children are slaughtered by violence in your home country or Door B, illegally enter the U.S. and perhaps be caught and detained, I’m positive I’d choose Door A too. The wall may make entry more difficult, but people are still going to try.

The wall may be akin to a “Keep Off The Grass” sign. We all know that we aren’t supposed to step on the green stuff, but there are compelling reasons for doing so. If our toddler slips our grip and runs onto the forbidden grassy area, are we going to obey the sign? I hope your answer is, “Of course not!” If a citizen of a Central American country is trying to remove his/her child from life-threatening violence, will the wall’s command “Do Not Enter” trump (no pun intended) the will to save one’s family? Probably not.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a brilliant solution to the current wall dilemma. There is no simple answer, and there are pros and cons to having/not having a wall. All I can say is a variation of a line from “Field of Dreams.” If you build it, they will still come.

Just WONDER-ing: Have you been following the news about President Trump’s attempt to build the wall? Do you think building a wall will solve the immigration problem? Is breaking the law ever justified?