We thank the nameless graffiti artist in Carroll County who spray painted a denunciation of an aborted plan to house some of the thousands of unaccompanied minors who have crossed the southern U.S. border in recent months at a military facility near Westminster. He or she has told us all we need to know about what's driving the furor over these children.

No, we're not going to harp on the first part of the message — "No illeagles here" — and claim that stupidity is at the heart of things. This is surely not the first person to wish spray paint cans had spell check. Rather, it is the second half of the missive — "No undocumented Democrats" — that really seems to cut to the chase. This controversy is not about the most humane way to treat tens of thousands of children who have endured a perilous journey north to escape violence in Central America. It's not really even about the best way to secure our borders. It's about Republicans trying to score cheap political points against Democrats, and President Barack Obama in particular.

Case in point: Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins, whose record in immigration demagoguery is without peer in Maryland law enforcement. None of the four sites in Maryland the federal government has thus far considered as places to house some of these children is in Frederick County, but have no fear, that won't stop Mr. Jenkins from getting in on this story. He's headed this week to McAllen, Texas — "included in a select group of sheriffs" from across the nation, his press release brags — to get a first-hand look at the situation at the border and "press federal officials to take definitive steps to halt the influx by repatriating illegal aliens." The trip, sponsored by the Federation for American Immigration Reform, should offer Mr. Jenkins a golden opportunity to remind Frederick voters of his tough-on-immigration bona fides as he runs for re-election.

Rep. Andy Harris, recently in the news for using his position on the House Appropriations Committee to monkey with affairs outside his district (in that case, Washington, D.C.'s marijuana decriminalization law), repeated the trick by threatening to block the use of the Army base near Westminster, a part of Carroll County he happens not to represent. It was never clear how many of these children the federal government was considering sending there and under what circumstances, and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the Democrat whose district actually includes the site in question, reserved judgment on those grounds. Mr. Harris was unbowed by such nuances, proclaiming: "These unaccompanied minors who have entered our nation illegally must not be brought to Carroll County."

The sentiment was echoed by a duo of Carroll Republicans who were only moderately more subtle in the political overtones of their denunciations than the spelling-challenged vandal. County Commissioner Richard Rothschild, famous for convening a summit purporting to debunk climate change science, declared that "Carroll County will not become a repository for Obama's failed immigration policies." Del. Justin Ready said the existence of the problem was "an indictment of President Obama's failure to take border security and illegal immigration seriously."

Certainly it's fair to debate whether a 2008 anti-human trafficking law (signed by President George W. Bush) preventing immediate deportation of unaccompanied minors from Central America and elsewhere is playing a role in the current crisis. It's also possible that President Obama's decision, in the face of Congressional Republicans' unwillingness to enact comprehensive immigration reform, to provide temporary protection from deportation for some undocumented immigrants brought here as children is being misinterpreted abroad. But neither one is the root cause of the sudden surge in children risking their lives to come here. They come because of rampant violence and unrest, much of it tied to the drug trade, and many of them would face legitimate danger if they returned.

Their numbers may be sufficient to overwhelm our border patrol and immigration courts, but the 75,000 or so we're on pace to receive this year amount to about 0.02 percent of the U.S. population. To put that in some context, Lebanon, a nation of about 4.4 million people, is housing nearly 1.1 million Syrian refugees, according to the United Nations. That's roughly the equivalent of the U.S. absorbing the entire populations of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador — twice over.

We must do everything we can to stem this flow of underage migrants at the source for the simple reason that the journey itself puts them at so much risk. But we also need to share the responsibility for caring humanely for those who are already here. We can do that, but only if we put the welfare of these children ahead of politics.


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