Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

What Obama could learn on the border

By Ruben Navarrette, CNN Contributor
updated 2:28 PM EDT, Thu July 10, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ruben Navarrette: President Obama should visit the border in light of crisis
  • He says Obama's call for more spending is right, but won't stop flow of people seeking refuge
  • Republicans will have to accept more spending on border and immigration, he says

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter: @rubennavarrette. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

San Diego, California (CNN) -- It's the law of unintended consequences.

Each time Americans spend billions to fortify the border by building fences or hiring Border Patrol agents, human traffickers raise their prices.

Today, it costs about $3,000 to move a person across the border. It's less if you brave mountain lions and cross off the beaten path. It's more if you cross near civilization and absolutely positively have to be there overnight. If we bolster enforcement, the price could soar to $6,000.

Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

How do we win a battle against an opponent when, the more we spend to defeat him, the more we empower him to fight back?

This riddle could stump anyone, but President Barack Obama seems to find it especially difficult.

Raised in Hawaii and having lived in Chicago, Obama is a newbie to the border. He's made one memorable visit in 5½ as president and he must have felt as if he landed on another planet.

Border Democrat on immigration crisis

Even on this week's fundraising swing through Texas, Obama couldn't find time to visit the border.

That was his loss. When you travel from San Diego to Douglas, Arizona, to Columbus, New Mexico, to Brownsville, Texas, it's like you're visiting several worlds at once. Each stretch has its own script. It's a fascinating area -- unless you're not interested.

Obama doesn't seem all that interested in the border, except when he can use it as a weapon.

In May 2011, during a visit to El Paso, Texas, Obama mocked Republicans by saying they wanted to build a moat on the border and fill it with alligators.

This week, in Dallas, more than 500 miles from the border, the president revealed his plans for tens of thousands of kids whose heads are filled with nightmares.

Since October, spurred by violent youth gangs in their home countries and fake news reports of "permisos" for young people approved by Congress, about 52,000 children and teenagers from Central America have been apprehended on the border.

"Apprehended" is too generous a word, since most of these people reportedly went up to Border Patrol agents with their arms raised and asked to be arrested. These uninvited guests are neither invading nor evading. They're surrendering.

A lot of Texas Democrats probably thought it was a bad idea for Obama to snub the border, and one said so out loud.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, suggested that Obama's failure to survey firsthand the scene of the crisis evoked memories of President George W. Bush viewing the devastation of Hurricane Katrina from an airplane flying high overhead.

This week, Cuellar said: "I hope this doesn't become the Katrina moment for President Obama, saying that he doesn't need to come to the border. He should come down."

Now that U.S. officials have custody of the border kids, many of whom were -- according to media reports -- sexually assaulted or had their lives threatened, the hard part is deciding what to do with them. Do we really want to send them back? Are we that monstrous?

Obama has asked Congress for $3.7 billion to deal with the crisis -- which includes $1.8 billion to help the Department of Health and Human Services provide better care for the children, and another $1.6 billion to help the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice expedite their removal. The remaining $300 million would go to the State Department to help Latin American governments counter the misinformation campaign.

This budgetary whiplash -- where we show these kids some kindness before banishing them to the dark, desperate and dangerous places from which they escaped -- summarizes Obama's muddled approach to the immigration issue, where he tries to be both tough and compassionate and winds up confused.

We need more border funding, but we could also use a lot more honestly and clarity in this debate. Money can't buy that.

Liberals will have to swallow the fact that it was their foil, George W. Bush, who signed a law in 2008 giving safe haven to unaccompanied minors from Central America, and now it's their champion, Barack Obama, who seeks the power to override it.

Meanwhile, conservatives are putting up a fight against the funding, but that won't last. They can't stand the idea of letting these kids stay here and grow up to become dependents and Democrats, and so they have to help Obama fund their return. For a while, there will be a tug-of-war in the GOP between the border hawks and budget hawks. But the former will win.

That's a good outcome. It would also be good for Congress to pass immigration reform, and for Obama to ease up on deportations.

For now, the administration needs the $3.7 billion, and it should get every penny. Congress should be generous, and the President should be diligent, but neither of them should be naive.

On the border, enforcement dollars are no silver bullet. We can hire more Border Patrol agents, build more walls, and expedite deportations. But none of that will stop the downtrodden, desperate, and determined from seeking refuge in a country that is supposed to be in the business of offering it.

And if Obama spent more time on the border, he'd already know that.

Read CNNOpinion's new Flipboard magazine.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:09 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
LZ Granderson says Ronald Reagan went horseback riding and took a vacation after the Korean Air Crash of 1983. So why does the GOP keep airbrushing history to bash Obama?
updated 9:38 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Errol Louis says the tragic death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD has its roots in the "broken windows" police strategy from the crime-ridden '80s.
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
updated 7:27 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Texas Gov. Rick Perry is right to immediately send 1,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to the border children crisis.
updated 9:56 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
updated 4:15 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
updated 11:35 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
updated 7:57 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
updated 10:17 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
updated 9:50 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
updated 11:07 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
updated 1:55 PM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
updated 3:53 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
updated 3:33 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
updated 6:11 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
updated 3:14 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
updated 8:06 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
updated 8:14 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
updated 4:16 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
updated 12:01 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
updated 1:29 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
updated 2:04 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
updated 11:18 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
updated 9:24 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT