We do have a problem at our border. More than 50,000 children, some of them pretty young, have shown up and asked for refuge.
This is not our normal border crisis. This is not a situation where illegal immigrants sneak across the border and then try to elude the Border Patrol.
This is a situation where little kids cross the border and seek the cops out. The Border Patrol represents to them the opportunity for a safe bed, a warm meal, perhaps referral to a mother who left them behind when she came to the country seeking work.
What response do they receive? Well, some of it is pretty compassionate. The Roman Catholic Church, from the pope on down, seems to be gearing up to help the kids. Other religious organizations are stepping up to the plate, too. We really have to begin by recognizing that there are good people down at the border.
But then there are the people you see on television, many of them dressed in American flag outfits, screaming epithets at the children. One group, for good measure, screamed epithets at a school bus carrying American kids.
It's just really ugly. When you see how hate-filled Americans can get when confronted with the specter of little kids seeking refuge, you ought to have some compassion for other areas of the world where mobs defy reason.
What about the country’s politicians?
The sane ones insist that we treat the kids humanely as we hustle them back to their native lands. Others want the president to call out the National Guard, apparently to drive the kids back across the border with bayonets. Still others warn us that the kids may be bringing Ebola with them.
The Republicans blame President Barack Obama for the crisis, arguing that if he had just been tough enough, parents wouldn't dare send their kids to America. Democrats blame Republicans for not passing comprehensive immigration reform.
The problem is that those kids are leaving Honduras and Guatemala and El Salvador and are traveling thousands of miles to get to the American border. They are escaping grinding poverty, gang violence, murders, rapes and tortures.
Speeding up procedures for sending them back won't solve their problem. They will try to return unless, of course, they get killed first. Reforming our immigration policies won't solve the problem. The kids will still live in gang-infested streets, due in large part to the fact that Americans insist on using illicit drugs.
Of course, some of those factors are as prevalent in Chicago as they are in El Salvador or in Honduras.
We will find some way to solve our border problem, but what we really ought to be doing in the long run is taking our responsibility to children all over the world seriously. Perhaps using the pope's good offices to convene international conferences on protecting children would be one way to start.