Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette is a CNN contributor, Daily Beast columnist, 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) -- Monitoring the immigration crisis requires keeping one eye on Washington and one on the U.S.-Mexico border.
One place is full of corrupt and mercenary characters who protect their interests, don't follow the rules, play with people's lives and who only care about making money and amassing power and ensuring their own survival.
Then you have the border.
Alarmed over tens of thousands of child refugees coming into the United States, House Republicans last week sent up a flare -- and wound up setting themselves on fire. With the Senate in recess until after Labor Day, Republicans approved a pair of show bills.
The first bill -- a $694 million emergency spending measure to deal with the border crisis and approved by a 223-189 vote -- showed that House Speaker John Boehner could muster just enough support to overcome meddling by outsiders. Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Jeff Sessions of Alabama lobbied to defeat the measure because they wanted to preserve the narrative that President Obama is solely to blame for the fact that at least 57,000 unaccompanied minors from Central America have streamed across the U.S-Mexico border since October 2013. They wanted to punish Obama by denying resources to house and care for the children.
The second bill showed Latino immigrants how much contempt the GOP has for them. By a vote of 216-192, House Republicans and four Democrats -- Reps. John Barrow of Georiga, Nick Rahall from West Virginia, Mike McIntyre of North Carolina and Collin Peterson of Minnesota -- voted out of spite to end the administration's policy offering Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
For Republicans, it was a chance to use the border crisis to attack a dispensation they never liked which offers more than half a million undocumented young people a two-year reprieve from deportation. The bill will never become law, but the damage is done -- to the Republican Party.
As if Latinos didn't have enough reasons to hate the GOP, the attack on the DREAM'ers gives them a fresh batch.
Ironically, in 2016, that could benefit Hillary Clinton, who has decided that on the issue of the refugee children she is pro-choice. Unfortunately, it is multiple choice.
In June, Clinton said in a CNN interview that the border kids "should be sent back." Then, in July, during an interview on Fusion -- the liberal cable network co-owned by ABC News and Univision and aimed at English-speaking Latinos -- Clinton claimed that she was talking about "migrant children" not "refugee children."
Someone please tell her that Latinos are fond of both.
If children don't have a claim to asylum or family members in the United States, Clinton told Jorge Ramos, they should be returned.
Never mind that the kids would be going back into darkness. Democrats call this a humanitarian crisis. How do you humanely hand a death sentence to an 8-year-old?
"We send kids back all the time," Clinton said coldly.
And to think, this woman began her career protecting children in America. Now that she's a politician, she thinks it's her job to protect America from children.
Still, Clinton insisted, the United States could help set up a screening process in countries like Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador to determine whether children qualify for asylum.
In her clumsiness on immigration, Clinton takes after Obama, whose handling of the issue -- in a recent poll from AP-GfK -- earned the disapproval of 68% of Americans. Only 31% approve of the job he's doing. That's what happens when you can't decide whether you want to be tough or compassionate.
No matter. Clinton, Obama and other Democrats have secret weapons. They're called Republicans.
In this go-around, the Democrats played the opposition masterfully. Obama made an initial misstep, saying what Clinton said -- that the kids had to go home -- and setting in motion plans for their expedited removal, without due process. Then he got smart and returned to the Democratic script of doing nothing and watching the GOP implode.
In the new narrative, Obama and other Democrats were actually seen by many Latinos as the good guys, fighting the good fight against those evil Republicans who wanted to send the kids back home.
To think Republicans swallowed the line about how Obama was going to take executive action to loosen immigration laws. Would this be the same Obama who spent the last five and a half years fighting with immigration activists and insisting he didn't have this power? He never wanted to use it before. Why use it now?
Democrats set a clever trap, and Republicans walked into it. The GOP will pay for that mistake for years, and deservedly so.
The rest of us learned a lesson. The next time we face a crisis where desperate people fleeing violence and oppression look to us for help, the most we can hope for is that Congress do what's best for all concerned -- and stay out of it.