The stories this week about children and families at the border made me realize just how much the media paints a specific picture of what they want us to see and how they want us to interpret what we see. I’d like to point out two things up front. Number one is that our immigration system desperately needs reforming – but it has been needing serious reform for decades. This has been a problem in every administration since I’ve been paying attention to politics which is at least as far back as President Clinton. But we really need to identify when the media creates a particular narrative, and we need to be careful about our reaction.

Media bias and manipulation is nothing new, and most people admit to understanding that the media is very biased. But we have a hard time stopping ourselves from being swept away by the pictures painted on the page or screen before us. Who can resist the pull on your heartstrings when you see a little child crying for her mother? Who does not relate to the fear and pain of imagining it’s your child who is being taken from you? You have to be pretty hard-hearted not to become emotionally involved.

All that being said, over the years, I’ve seen plenty of these situations that are hyped up by the media, with politicians all over the front page to show they’ve jumped on the bandwagon. There is always some truth to the story, but we need to remember – the media makes its money from grabbing the interest of the consumer, and politicians get votes by getting their faces before the voters with a message that will make people remember them favorably. When you start seeing one story line that is focused on one issue, and you start to see a little hysteria and hyperbole, you can pretty much bet there is a lot of misleading information involved – we are being manipulated.

Does the immigration system need to be reformed? The answer is a resounding yes. But the same things that are happening now happened under Obama’s Administration and the previous ones – the system needed reforming back then, as well. But if you look carefully at what is happening, there is no reform to be found. Bills are being introduced in Congress, but so far nothing has a chance of being passed. Why is that? Don’t we all want to have the children stay with their parents? Well, yes we do, but as usual, the devil is in the details.

Many of the kids in custody are unaccompanied. Their parents sent them here in hopes that the children can become established and the parents would then come across the border to join them. Many of the kids are with people who are suspected to be non-relatives, and a lot of those non-relatives are human traffickers and people who abuse the children (a sizable percentage of the abusers have children too). Many of the “children” are not the cute 2 year-olds you see on TV, but rather, they are older – some of those are here for drug/gang reasons. There are also those who are taken from their parents because the parents have been arrested for something criminal. The same thing happens all over the world – when a parent is being detained, the state takes the child. It’s a horrible situation, but our laws don’t allow children to be placed in detainment with their parents. Then there are parents who know they will be deported, but they want their kids to stay here to have a better future. This is the purposeful sacrifice of a loving parent to be separated knowing they will never see them again, so their kids can grow up in the U.S.

The solution is just as complex as the problem. Everyone wants to “do something.” But as I work in the legislative world, I have to ask what exactly you wish to do? Do we keep families together by immediately deporting the family as a whole, without looking into whether their cry for asylum is valid? Do we build 20,000 homes and pay for each family’s expenses while they wait for their trial? Do we just send them on their way into this country (in other words, do we open the borders completely)? What do we do with the kids that show up with no adult whatsoever? If you have parents who are running drugs, what do you do with their kids while they are in jail?

Our laws say they hold the kids for 20 days, so hopefully, their parents can either be deported or out of confinement by then, and they can be reunited. Many of them are picked up by relatives within the 20 days – but we have to be sure to confirm that these are relatives. How do you do that without “papers” – which they don’t have because they are here illegally? Do you want us to give a kid to just anyone who walks up and says they are an aunt or cousin?

We need procedures in place to protect the country and to protect those kids – and we have to pay for them. If we house every family together, even those being held for long periods of time, we have to build the facilities, pay for the expenses of the entire family, pay for the security to protect both them and keep them in whatever facility they are in, and pay for all the proceedings for thousands of people – people who are here illegally. The price tag would be unbelievably huge.

The whole situation is awful – the place they are leaving is awful, the fact that they bring their kids here illegally is awful, and the realities of trying to process and take care of thousands and thousands of people is awful for those working at the border. None of it is easy, but Congress is the one who makes these laws – not the President. And the members of Congress seem to be more interested in getting in front of the cameras telling us how awful it is rather than finding solutions (although to be fair to them – the solution is for these other countries to stop abusing their people and providing a stable place for them to live so they will stop pouring over our borders – something we can’t fix). Again, to be fair, there is probably some efforts being made to try to fix the problem, but there are different ideas about how that should be done – from open borders, catch and release, keeping all the families together, etc. Each solution has its fans and critics because each solution has positive and negative consequences, both politically and realistically. The problem hasn’t been solved for decades because of this very reason. My guess is that it won’t be solved this time, but because the President has “done something” it will fade away. The thing he’s done is to order the families to be held together which was what we were clamoring for. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has said that isn’t legal, so this will be in court again shortly. Basically we are back to square one – no difference between right now and five years ago.

This is a story that is not new. It has been suddenly manufactured, and if you have been on the bandwagon of outrage, you have been manipulated. The bottom line – if you see an issue that is smeared all over media, tugs at your heartstrings, and causes politicians to get in front of the cameras on a daily basis to pontificate, you can almost bet you aren’t being told the whole story and half of what you are being told isn’t true. The media makes their living on high emotion, and they will do whatever they can to get you to click on their story.

~Ruth Peterson, Boistfort PCO