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Editorial: Newest wave of illegal immigrants

Border security has been a prominent concern for more than a decade, spurred from various threats — some serious and others imagined — ranging from terrorists slipping into the country to the illegal drug and gun trade to alien workers taking American jobs.

The driving force of that problem is, of course, illegal immigration from Central and South America — tens of thousands of individuals who believe life is better north of the border, and who are willing to risk their lives to get here.

The United States has thrown both people and money at the problem. According to the Department of Homeland Security, “the number of boots on the ground has increased from approximately 9,100 Border Patrol agents in 2001 to more than 18,500 today.” At the same time, the department is watching the border with drones and electronic sensors and has erected 651 miles of fencing.

And yet, people from the south continue to make the dangerous journey. Now, the U.S. Border Patrol is reporting a new wrinkle in this wave illegal entries — one that, frankly, is becoming beyond its ability to handle: unaccompanied children.

Some 47,000 minors, without documents and without a parent, have been caught at the border during the last eight months. That’s a 92 percent increase from the same period a year ago. Depending upon which expert you talk to, predictions are that this trend, if unabated, could more than double by the end of the year.

It’s no wonder that President Barack Obama has described what’s happening here as an “urgent humanitarian situation.”

The problem, and the search for an appropriate response are, however, being filtered through political lenses, particularly by a Congress that has failed to adequately address illegal immigration over the past decade.

On the one hand, we have those who want to paint this crisis as the fault of the Obama administration, brought on in large part by the White House 2012 decision to defer deportation of some adults found illegally in the U.S.

Others say what’s driving these young people to our southern border is the upsurge in criminal violence they’ve been witnessing in their own countries.

As U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said recently, “let’s be clear: This is not an immigration crisis. This is a humanitarian and refugee crisis.

“It’s being caused in large measure by thousands in Central America who believe it is better to run for their lives and risk dying, than stay and die for sure.”

Whichever side of the fence you’re on, it’s clear that the situation calls for more than a single answer, a response that goes beyond pouring more money into trying to seal the border.

For one thing, it’s a situation that calls for greater cooperation between the U.S. and Mexico and other countries to the south. As Vice President Joseph Biden recently told Guatemalan President Otto Perez, “... we have a shared responsibility to take significant steps to address this issue.”

It’s also a response that needs swift action. At this time, special shelters are being opened on military bases, and even some private facilities, to hold these young detainees. The president has put their care in the hands of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, reasoning that its experience with humanitarian crises makes it a good choice.

Their cases must be take priority and handled with care, whether they are reunited with any family residing here in the U.S. or are sent back to their homeland.

They cannot be left to languish in warehouses while Congress debates what to do.

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