Images of Central American children alone and crying in detention centers torment us while we debate what to do about immigration. A psychiatry professor gave part of the answer in a lecture long ago about child refugees who survived the apocalyptic events of World War II.
Though hardship and horror beset these children, the main predictor of whether they would reach adulthood emotionally intact was whether they had family with them. If they had their mother, the prognosis was good. If they had both father and mother, it was very good — regardless of what else happened. The children who endured these things alone were lost emotionally forever.
Sincere concern for the welfare of these children means reuniting them with their loved ones. Their mothers, their fathers, their brothers and sisters, their grandparents — these are the people they cry for.
It betrays how venal we have become that we assume we, with our houses, our cars and our possessions, can offer a better life to these children than they could have — but for their poverty — in their own country reunited with their loved ones.
The mothers who sent them here were desperate. They do not get their immunizations. They may not go to school. (Schools are not free in Mexico. I suspect the same is true in Central America.) Though food is plentiful in these countries, they may not get enough to eat.
Brazil instituted the highly successful Bolsa Familia program for the people of the favelas (urban slums.) Families are given a stipend as long as the children receive their immunizations (given free) and are kept in school. School supplies and the modest tuition are paid.
Brazil is a large country. Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador are small. Congress could ask the CBO to estimate the cost of beginning such a program in cooperation with respected welfare organizations in these countries. The benefits will be much less expensive done there than done here.
This solution would already have suggested itself but for the potential effect of this influx on the electoral balance of power. The number of Democrats and Republicans is almost equal while Hispanic voters tend heavily to vote Democratic. The president doesn't open the floodgates to illegal immigration because he loves immigrants. It pleases his base and tilts the balance in favor of his party.
Neither do Republicans want to seal the border because they hate immigrants. They realize that opposing the flood of "illegals" further alienates Hispanic voters. Republicans think the president is using children as pawns in a political chess game.
Reuniting these kids with their families while extending a helping hand to them at home is the way most consistent with our country's affinity for people who yearn for and strive for a better life through peaceful means.
On the other hand, we should welcome legal immigrants. The argument that they will take our jobs is bunk. There is plenty of work to be done. Our infrastructure is rotting. Our roads are inadequate. The electrical transmission system needs to be secured against terrorists and should be extended to carry wind power from remote areas to population centers. Our bridges are outdated and dangerous. Air traffic control is outdated. There is much else.
These great infrastructure projects cry out to be done while we spend the wealth of future generations on social programs that yield only short-term benefit. Far better would be investing in infrastructure that grows the economy and in immigrants — may they be many — with the brains and the brawn to build it.
It would reignite the fires of our economy. It would bring about a better future for all of us.
Dr. Farquhar is a Newport News resident.