As a Latino who is also a patriotic American, I am painfully aware of the tendency for the United States to look at Latin America as a problem. The current border crisis is clearly exacerbating that tendency, and I can appreciate why.
In fact, it’s difficult to ignore how many negatives – cultural, political and otherwise – are highlighted or aggravated by the fact that tens of thousands of children have suddenly come to our country without homes or parents, putting the U.S. in what seems like an unwinnable position of either absorbing a huge cost (and likely encouraging more illegal border crossings and more future cost) or abruptly deporting these vulnerable children, sending them back to what we know must be a multitude of threats and dangers.
The situation is actively highlighting the facts that an unsecured border puts the U.S. at physical and financial risk, and that immigration reform is both desperately needed and completely stuck at partisan crossroads.
The crisis – with its void of solutions – also serves as a vivid example of why 70 percent of Americans feel the U.S. is on the wrong track. The people are seeing a situation that cries – literally cries, with the heartbreaking tears of children – for a solution, but the only message they are hearing from their leaders in government is the irritating squawk of politics: “It’s the other guys’ fault; that’s why you should vote for my side in November.”
I often tell lawmakers that they need to change their view of Latin America from “problem” to “opportunity.” I also remind them that immigration is not a Latino issue, it’s an American issue.
I’d like to encourage a similar shift in mindset when it comes to the current border crisis. I think everyone can readily agree that what’s going on right now is an American challenge, requiring solutions that will impact all Americans.
But I recognize that opportunities may be harder to see. My belief is that one single-but-significant opportunity is staring our lawmakers in the face: This is a moment ripe for leadership.
So far, the only true leadership I’ve seen is from Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas – two men who reached across the aisle this week with a realistic, tough-but-fair proposal that would quickly change immigration law to treat unaccompanied children from every Central American country they way children from Mexico and Canada are already treated.
I find it shameful that his colleagues in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus immediately criticized Cuellar for this act of bipartisanship. Instead of criticism, I believe both Cuellar and Cornyn should be applauded. In a situation that has no great answers, they are brave enough to put forward ideas that might provide some answers.
We won’t achieve a perfect solution to the current crisis, but we can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. True leaders know that perfection can never be the goal of government.
True leaders also have faith in the people. In the current situation, we need leaders to emerge who have confidence that Americans will accept imperfect actions and just-adequate solutions.
Sometimes you have to amputate a limb to save a life, and people understand that concept. In fact, they admire those strong enough to make that kind of difficult choice.
Finally, true leaders don’t rely on blame to get through a crisis. As a Republican and former Bush appointee myself, I can tell you how tired Republicans are of hearing the Obama administration blame George W. Bush for everything that is ever wrong in the world.
But I’m also ready to say that blaming President Obama for the current border crisis isn’t getting us anywhere. I have confidence that Americans know where to place blame. They don’t really need a lot of help with that.
Instead, they want leadership. In fact, if the president came forward with concessions and real bipartisan efforts on immigration reform, right now, I think Americans would absolve him of some of the blame for the current crisis.
Again, alongside problems, I see opportunity. Putting ego and politics aside to work out a bipartisan solution on immigration reform could ameliorate blame; does this not sweeten the pot, Mr. President? We’re watching, waiting and hoping for you to lead.
Hector Barreto is chairman of the Latino Coalition and former head of the U.S. Small Business Administration.