July 28, 2014
The Arizona Republic
Those thousands of Central American kids crossing the border actually represent a small part of a huge problem, one that Arizona Rep. Matt Salmon has been trying to get Washington to face, without much luck.
Now, at least, Congress and the president are looking in that direction.
But is it just a passing glance?
"I certainly hope something gets done with these kids, and I hope it doesn't end there," Salmon told me Friday. "A lot of my colleagues didn't want to do anything for the fear that the senate might tack something on that we didn't like or that whatever we passed the president wouldn't implement, or he would pick and choose what to implement.
"But I don't agree. To me, that's like saying let's not throw any passes because someone might intercept it, or let's not run the ball because we might fumble. I don't want to take a knee. Well, that's not what I came to Washington to do."
He believes some legislation will move forward next week.
One sticking point is the argument politicians are having over changing federal law to treat Central American kids like those from Mexico.
"People who have studied the issue know the law must be changed," Salmon said. "Under the current law it takes too long to process the Central American kids, three to five years. Our proposal is to speed up the process immensely. But at the same time, if they qualify for asylum under our laws they would be granted asylum."
A number of immigration groups and religious organizations are against changing the law.
Salmon believes the concern is misplaced.
"People argue about the crime and gangs and the dangers in countries like Honduras and Guatemala," he said. "But I don't think that any sane person would argue that there are not gangs in Mexico. That there is not violence in Mexico. Some of the most dangerous places in the world are in Mexico. The other nations in the region want very much want to work with us on these problems."
Salmon knows all about this. He is the chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere.
"We have totally neglected the Western Hemisphere, our own neighborhood, as we have pivoted to other parts of the world," he said.
After the United States helped to crush the drug cartels in Colombia the operations moved to countries in Central America.
"When you squeeze a balloon the pressure shifts to another location," he said. "If we could stage an operation like the one in Columbia for these other countries it would bring security and stability to the region. This isn't to simply help Central America.It is to help us. Drugs from these countries are a scourge on our land. Heroin is cheaper than OxyContin now, and causing deaths all across the board, from poor to rich."
However, Salmon is worried that our national attention will shift to something else immediately after Congress acts on the crisis with the children.
"We will try to put a Band-Aid on that problem next week," he said. "But the root cause is going to take a lot more work. The issue de jour six months ago was Syria. Then the issue was Ukraine. Then the issue was Iran. The issue has been North Korea. Israel. It goes on. Nothing changes. But if we don't focus on our own neighborhood we are going to be in trouble."
He said that officials in Central America are eager and willing to work with us, not simply to save their children, but our own.
It's something Salmon knows about personally.
"If you haven't has a friend or family member who has had to deal with this scourge of drugs you might be able to turn a blind eye," Salmon said. "But I actually have a friend from high school who just lost a daughter to a heroin overdose. He's a guy from an upper-middle class family. They're good people. Their daughter, like a lot of our kids, got caught up in this. These stories are happening all over. It's a problem that is hurting us. It's hurting the whole hemisphere. We need to work together to solve it."