The grim, now-iconic photographs of the bodies of Salvadorian refugees Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his 23-month-old daughter Valeria, the latter’s little arm still around her father’s neck as both float face-down in the Rio Grande near Brownsville, should shake the soul of any American who claims to cherish life. If not, such individuals must concede not only their hypocrisy but an incurable heartlessness. We’ve already heard some callous remarks — that it was the pair’s fault for drowning in the river, that they shouldn’t have been trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally.
Yet we are just long-toothed enough to recall how Democrats and Republicans have repeatedly undermined efforts at comprehensive immigration reform, largely because one side, the other or both refused to offer real concessions. Bowing instead to extremism, lawmakers have made fools of those daring to press solutions to this complicated challenge, whether in 2007 when President George W. Bush and Sens. John McCain and Ted Kennedy sought to reform immigration law or last year when President Trump pressed a dynamic plan for border-wall funds and citizenship for the Dreamers — a plan that would have cemented his legacy as a great president. Instead Trump choked and abandoned his own proposal.
What do we see now? More blame for whoever created the raging humanitarian crisis along our southern border. In a disturbingly frank interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd last week, Trump repeatedly blamed his predecessor, even as desperate Central American masses flee oppression and violence and pursue asylum in the United States, even as Todd implored Trump to put the finger-pointing aside and act decisively and magnanimously as a chief executive in stopping the death and suffering. Trump remained oblivious.
On Wednesday, the Republican-led U.S. Senate passed a border supplemental relief bill. GOP leadership told Democratic House leaders it was the Senate bill they must pass or the highway, regardless of a House border bill passed a day earlier.
Talk about disgraceful. Good things can be found in each chamber’s bill, all justifying compromise. The House, for instance, demands contractors lose their government contracts if they don’t maintain reasonable health standards at the immigration detention facilities they manage (and the health reports have been scandalous). The Senate bill, approved on a bipartisan basis, provides added funding for immigration courts to more promptly address asylum cases. In remarks to the Texas press on Wednesday, Republican Sen. John Cornyn explained the Senate is taking its hardline approach with the House to expedite matters involving a troubled borderland where lives are being lost. Yet while we support much of our Texas senator’s border legislation — including his addition to the Senate bill of federal reimbursement compensating cities and nonprofits providing food and shelter to migrants — we also remain convinced that the House and Senate can reach consensus, even when time is short. We’ve seen them do so before. Surely innocent lives such as that of 23-month-old Valeria Ramírez, dead in the water, any future dashed, are worth such sacrifice and deliberation before our lawmakers race away home for the Fourth of July recess to tout life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Surely.