An Associated Press investigation and Senate hearing last week revealed that the Obama administration cannot locate thousands of the 90,000 (and counting) migrant children it welcomed into the United States beginning in summer 2012. What’s worse, the Department of Health and Human Services found itself so unable to manage the influx of illegal immigrants that this policy effectively resulted in the U.S. government facilitating child slavery, including sex slavery.
The facts are horrifying. From the AP report:
In 2012, caseworkers followed a stringent process before releasing children to sponsors, including background checks, fingerprints, 60-day home studies and signed agreements that the children would appear in immigration court. But in November 2013, overburdened by a sudden influx of unaccompanied children, the agency took the first of what would be a series of steps to lower its standards, stating in a manual that most parents and legal guardians would not be fingerprinted….
Last year, a social worker visited an apartment complex in Fort Meyers, Florida, to see if it was suitable for a new placement. The government had sent more than a dozen other children to live there, but the social worker found nothing but an empty apartment, said Hilary Chester, associate director of anti-trafficking programs at U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops, another federal contractor.
‘We were concerned that it could have been a front to have those kids released so that traffickers could get them into the workforce,’ Chester said. ‘No one knows where the kids are.’
In the hearing Thursday, Sen. James Lankford asked HHS Assistant Secretary Mark Greenberg how many of these children HHS could contact.
“We have no idea how many we could contact today,” Greenberg responded. Sen. John McCain became so frustrated by the repeated lack of knowledge from HHS officials interviewed that he left the hearing: “[Officials’] lack of knowledge of the facts is insulting,” he said.
Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio teamed up with Sen. Claire McCaskill to convene the hearing after investigations found six Guatemalan children in Portman’s state had been lured to an egg farm with promises of an education, then forced with death threats to work there up to 12 hours a day.
“Up until three days ago, it was the policy of the HHS that it was okay if other adults in the house [of child sponsors] had been convicted of sex crimes for children,” McCaskill said Thursday in amazement. “Since the surge of migrant children, around 4 percent of sponsors received home visits from HHS officials to ensure proper care despite the fact that since 2013 the HHS has more than $350 million in unspent funds for the UAC program, according to the Senate Appropriations Committee,” reported World Magazine.
Dear Government, Remember Me? I Pay You to Protect Me
The facts are astounding, but perhaps shouldn’t be. The blogosphere that pounded keyboards recently, drumming up tears and dollars for Syrian refugees, needs to take note that solving major world problems requires more than, well, tissues and donation buckets, as Leslie Loftis ably pointed out in these pages at the time. Sometimes, “helping” is not helpful. Anyone with an abusive or manipulative relative knows this (and we all have relatives who are like that, at least to some degree).
Europeans are learning this, also the hard way. Some refugees they’ve welcomed are raping their women and trafficking their children (see: Cologne and Rotherham). Yes, obviously not all of them, or even a majority. But my question is this: Were rapes happening inside Germany before Syrian refugees arrived to add their own? Of course they were. Did France have violence and crime before refugees arrived and attacked Paris? Of course it did. So why didn’t these countries perform that first and most important duty of a government, which is to protect their own citizens, rather than subjecting them to additional risks?
I think a central answer to this lies in the migrant children debacle: When we ask government to do everything, it cannot do anything. Our government is trying to care for other countries’ kids, for pete’s sake! This is the definition of a cradle-to-grave welfare state, and in it lies the secret of why such states are so inept.
Government Deterioriates As It Grows
Public schools are a microcosm of this. Ostensibly, school is for education, but now schools are expected to do so much else that education barely happens. They feed children breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They get children dentists, doctors, and psychiatrists. They teach them discipline and social skills. They manage myriad sports teams. They teach children English and connect them with social workers, who connect them to even more public benefits besides free “schooling.” Is there anything we don’t ask public schools to do? Some even potty train!
It’s absolutely no wonder, then, that seven in ten Americans have little confidence in public schools. We know they are failing us. We just don’t know that it’s our fault. And this pattern is repeated in every single American institution. The U.S. military, for example, runs 234 golf courses! So, yes, confidence in public institutions is at an all-time low, and in large part because we refuse to define what those institutions do and do not do. That just sets them up for failure.
Far wiser to limit government to the things it can do well than to ask it to try to do everything, which is impossible. This is why I support limited government. I don’t want my government telling other countries’ most vulnerable citizens to trek on over here then inevitably be unable to care for them and end up sending them to random people’s homes, where we lose track of them and they’re left to similar or worse exploitation than they left behind. First things first, and that starts with the people whose presence justifies our government’s existence at all (for the clueless, that’s American citizens).
Charity Begins at Home
My aunt used to tell me, “Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine.” A corollary for nations is “The presence of a problem inside your borders is not a reason we should flood you with our sons and money.” Countries that cannot handle their own resources obviously are not primed to responsibly manage other people’s. And who is responsible for addressing other countries’ problems? First and foremost, their own citizens.
Of course, it’s easier to ignore the problems in our own homes and neighborhoods while making ourselves feel good that we “did something for somebody,” but everyone who has ever read any novel with a shallow, self-centered, busybody character knows this is evidence of an undeveloped, if not corrupt, sense of morality. Often, do-gooders cannot manage their own household so seek self-validation attempting to manage other people’s.
Charles Dickens’ Mrs. Jellyby from “Bleak House” is emblematic of this sort. She spends all her time in make-work “missionary activity” for the “poor children of Africa” while her children and home go to seed. She thus leaves the good, albeit limited, work she could actually do with her own two hands in favor of a pursuit she genuinely cannot accomplish (saving the poor children of Africa? Cain’t nobody do that, lady!) but which sounds to her more grand.
Virtue Signaling Is the Opportunity Cost of Being Effective
We are all guilty of this. It’s called shirking our duties. In this case, we just put an especially hypocritically pious and self-important veneer on our failure to read the children books at bedtime and invite poorer neighbors over for dinner and give generously to our local church and other less-sexy “podunk” charities: We were occupying ourselves in “online activism,” doncha know! Now, doesn’t that sound all self-important and make us feel better about spending all that time furiously reading and sharing Important Stories on Twitter and Facebook?
There’s another term for this hypocrisy: virtue signalling. The charity world has been discussing these concepts for several years now. Robert Lupton, the author of “Toxic Charity,”points out: “One-way giving tends to make the poor objects of pity, which harms their dignity. It also erodes their work ethic and produces a dependency that is unhealthy both for the giver and the recipient.”
What is true for individuals is also true for nations, and societal leaders have strong incentives to keep poor people dependent on them so they can gain power, so we must beware this impulse. Lupton notes: “When there’s a flood or a hurricane, folks continue operating on a one-way, crisis, give-to-the-poor mentality long after development should have taken place, because it’s easier for relief agencies to sell crisis than development and empowerment.”
Genuinely Helping People Requires Empowering Their Agency
“When Helping Hurts” also points out that truly helping people almost never can be a one-off transfer of items. Especially in the United States, deprivation almost always stems from people problems, not an actual lack of resources. The truth is that genuinely addressing poverty is practically never accomplished by giant, feel-good initiatives that “raise awareness.” It can only truly be done in person, one-on-one, walking with people and bearing their burdens in your very own skin and soul. Real help means walking with people. Some people call it solidarity. But solidarity is not just a feeling. It’s an action.
We don’t want to do this because a) it’s hard and takes a long time and can’t be measured with the kind of “big [phony] numbers” you can get from things like retweets, hits, and shares and b) because, ultimately, we tend to be more concerned about stroking our own egos by seeing ourselves as “the giver” rather than humbling ourselves to live with the people we pretend to love and ourselves share their burdens. This is also known as paternalism, and it may sound loving but it’s both insulting and counterproductive. And they know we’re doing it. Why do you think people in our inner cities and poverty-stricken rural areas feel so resentful right now? Because they know we see them as failures to sanctimoniously help.
As “When Helping Hurts” authors Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert write, “Development is not done to people or for people but with people.”
starting with a focus on needs amounts to starting a relationship with low-income people by asking them, ‘What is wrong with you? How can I fix you?’ Given the nature of most poverty, it is difficult to imagine more harmful questions to both low-income people and to ourselves? Starting with such questions initiates the very dynamic that we need to avoid, a dynamic that confirms the feelings that we are superior, that they are inferior, and that they need us to fix them…. Instead of looking outside the low-income individual or community for resources and solutions, [asset-based community development] starts by asking the materially poor how they can be stewards of their own gifts and resources, seeking to restore individuals and communities…
When looking at poverty and violence, whether in our own neighborhoods or in those faraway that may transplant themselves into our own, it’s crucial to understand that big government programs never can really satisfyingly answer individual needs, and typically exacerbate them. Massive programs like importing tens of thousands of refugee children may sound charitable, but their inevitable effects are more suffering.
We should not need to keep seeing consequences like this to decide to stop letting little children be abused to make us feel better for the few short days we banged out sympathetic blog posts and donated a couple bucks and called our representatives to make somebody else Do Something. The people who need us most are the people right in front of us.