Higher Ground: Why granting children refugee status isn't enough 

There is much talk these days, on a local and national level, of what to do with the 40,000-plus children at the U.S.-Mexican border. Like it or not, some of those kids are being placed with their family members or social service organizations right here in southeast Michigan.

The United Nations calls them refugees, and some locals call them an invasion.

The truth is that these children are indeed refugees — refugees of our War on Drugs.

Sonia Nazario, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book Enrique's Journey, a story about a boy from Honduras on his quest to reunite with his mother in the United States, embarked on a four-country journey with him 10 years ago, and recently went back to see how things had changed. She discussed it on a recent episode of The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.

Ten years ago, Nazario explained to Stewart, the youth were fleeing poverty and seeking to reunite with the parent who came here to help the family escape poverty.

When she went back to Honduras, she was shocked by the change: enormous economic growth, and violence.

It's all because of the narco-cartels, Nazario explained:

We've stopped the flow of cocaine through the Caribbean. We spent $8 billion to do that, but it simply re-routed inland to Honduras ... These narco-cartels are really fighting for control over this turf, and these children have become their foot soldiers. They are trying to recruit these children at a very young age, to use drugs, distribute drugs, serve as lookouts, and ultimately serve as hit men for these cartels.

We need to see these children for what they are — refugees. It's an extraordinary moment for us to stand up and do the right thing for these children.

But "doing the right thing" — in Nazario's mind and Stewart's and the cheering audience's — stops short of the truth, and where it stops is granting those children refugee status.

That is only a part of the right thing to do.

What is completely the right thing to do is to end the War on Drugs that made them refugees in the first place. If you don't do this, you guarantee more child refugees of this war will come to America.

You see, the War on Drugs — our Prohibition, right here at home — is what makes easily renewable commodities like cocaine and heroin worth more than their weights in gold. Of course the cartels are armed, and of course they're going to fight for control of trafficking routes.

There is simply too much—tax-free—money at stake.

Additionally, unlike corporations that have the right to sue or litigate territorial disputes or appeal to federal or international agencies or courts, disputes among narco-traffickers are settled with violence. There is no other legitimate civil avenue for dispute resolution. It is our War on Drugs that ensures that there's no other option.

You see, the War on Drugs puts the power of money and addiction into the hands of criminals. We aren't fighting a war over alcohol or tobacco for a reason: Those products are regulated. Alcohol prohibition of the '20s was a bloody, corrupt failure. The War on Drugs is like that — on illegal steroids. It also denies legitimate public health officials any input. Power lies squarely with criminals, narco-cartels, and the Drug Enforcement Administration tasked with making a drug-free society. (Think about that for a moment: The Drug Enforcement Administration. Surely the only thing they've succeeded at is ensuring illicit drugs are, in fact, used, dangerous, and readily available.)

The War on Drugs creates a circumstance where it's easier for kids to get illicit drugs than it is to get alcohol or tobacco.

We are not, nor will we ever be, drug-free. Better to end the War and regulate cocaine, heroin, meth, and other drugs via a public health, taxed approach. It's the only way to take the power from violent cartels — and win the War on Drugs.

A continuation of the war will guarantee a continued flow of drugs to our young people, and chickens coming home to roost. I mean, children seeking refugee status at our border.

More by Valerie Vande Panne

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