Recently, a new crisis with the potential to threaten national security has arisen. This time, it’s not in Israel, Syria, Ukraine, or Iraq, but in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. The recent flood of illegal immigrants across our border with Mexico has a destabilizing effect in this country, on our economy as well as our security. This is nothing new, of course — our border hasn’t been secure for decades, and presidents from both parties have applied, at best, a patchwork response.
What’s new is the type of immigrant crossing the border illegally in large numbers: what the federal government, in typical bureaucratic language, calls unaccompanied alien children. These children are being sent across the border (presumably by their parents) from not only Mexico, but violent, struggling, unstable countries in Central America.
This isn’t necessarily a problem, in and of itself, if it were dealt with in a reasonable and efficient manner by the feds. The problem lies in a 2008 law signed by President George W. Bush, which passed Congress in unanimous consent. The law, intended to protect the victims of human trafficking, required that unaccompanied minors from countries other than Canada and Mexico be given a full immigration hearing (including representation from counsel) rather than being deported more quickly. It also involved the Department of Health and Human Services in placing them until these hearings could be held.
The recent influx has overwhelmed that system, and this administration hasn’t helped matters by directing DHHS to place these children all over the country. This has made it harder to keep track of them before they receive their hearing, which might take several years in some cases. The White House has also made a habit of not involving state officials in this process whatsoever; Gov. Paul LePage only learned that children had been placed in Maine after he asked directly.
LePage immediately (and wisely) protested, pointing out that Maine could hardly afford to support these individuals, and it should be the federal government’s responsibility. Independent Eliot Cutler agreed on this last point, also noting that Maine had helped refugees in the past already. Mike Michaud — even as he appeared at a fundraiser with Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, who has welcomed the children to his state despite local protests — refused to take a position on the issue. Instead of saying what he actually might do as governor, Michaud said he’d have to get more information before making a decision.
Given that he was in Congress at the time the Bush law was passed, and that he voted for the DREAM Act the last time it came up, one would think that he’d have enough information on the issue by now. This is, after all, someone who didn’t seem to have any problem with Nancy Pelosi’s assertion that we had to pass Obamacare to know what was in it. Now, all of a sudden, Michaud wants to wait for more information.
It’s not surprising that Michaud would want to avoid taking a position on the issue. He is, after all, an extraordinarily cautious politician who delays taking positions on nearly every issue as long as possible as a matter of course. He has to be hoping that this particular issue — which has the potential to split moderates and his liberal base — resolves itself as quickly as possible.
Depending on how long the crisis drags on and how many children are relocated to Maine, though, this could grow into a bigger issue in the gubernatorial race. With Cutler and LePage staking out their positions early on, the focus will shift to Michaud — not only as the lone holdout, but as the only one who gets a vote in Congress. Eventually, whether he likes it or not, he’ll have to make a decision — something that he’s asking the voters of Maine to trust him to do every day as governor.