Border Crisis: A Defining Moment of Who We Are as a Nation

FILE - This June 18, 2014, file photo shows young detainees being escorted to an area to make phone calls as hundreds of most
FILE - This June 18, 2014, file photo shows young detainees being escorted to an area to make phone calls as hundreds of mostly Central American immigrant children are being processed and held at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Nogales Placement Center in Nogales, Ariz. Thousands of immigrant children crossing alone into the U.S. can live in American cities, attend public schools and possibly work here for years without consequences. The chief reasons are an overburdened, deeply flawed system of immigration courts and a 2002 law intended to protect children's welfare, an Associated Press investigation finds. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)

When protesters recently blocked buses full of undocumented children from reaching a border patrol processing facility in California, I couldn't believe my eyes. Chanting unbelievably cruel and vicious slogans like "nobody wants you," these anti-immigrant protesters were yelling at the most vulnerable among us -- children fleeing regions where murder, rape and other violent crimes are creating havoc for innocents. Yes, we are a nation of laws, but we are also a nation that believes in welcoming the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning for freedom.

These aren't kids looking to go to Disneyland, or trying to get a job; they are running from catastrophe to be with family members in the United States, or to find refuge here in order to stay alive. As we wrestle with policy and budgets, we must also wrestle with how we will be defined around the world -- and how history will record it. We must respond without delay, but that response must show our balance between securing our borders and the humanity that cannot bear to see children caught in the middle of ugly politics.

In 2008, President George W. Bush signed the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, which gave expanded protections to children (not from Mexico or Canada) by prohibiting them from quickly being sent back to their country of origin. This was a historic step in the prevention of sex and human trafficking of children that was endorsed by a bipartisan coalition and signed by a Republican President. We didn't see people yelling for Bush's impeachment and we didn't see the sort of political bickering that we are witnessing now.

Today, when President Obama wants to tackle the problem, he is getting pushback from every corner. Instead of working with him to establish a humane resolution to an urgent humanitarian crisis, politicians, pundits and those with their own agendas are using defenseless children as pawns in a dirty game of politics. I for one am disgusted.

Countries around the world have their own immigration laws and methods of dealing with a recurring theme: desperate people searching for peace from volatile parts of the world. And nations everywhere thrive and prosper from the contributions of immigrants and the children of immigrants -- including right here in the U.S. We especially are a nation of immigrants; their influence was, and is, present throughout society. That is an undeniable fact. We are also a country that prides itself on certain morals and beliefs that include concern for children who have nowhere to go. How can we sleep at night if we send kids back to areas where they face the very real possibility of being killed, kidnapped or trafficked? Yes, securing the border is vital to our own security, but clearly, these migrant children weren't running from border security; on the contrary, they are running towards it with the hope that they or someone can help.

Throughout my years championing for civil rights, analyzing politics and advocating on behalf of the voiceless, I am disturbed the most when harmless children suffer because of politics or detrimental policies. Gang activity that is occurring in areas to our south largely because of the U.S.-Mexican war on drugs is fueling much of the unrest and tragedy these young ones and their parents find themselves in.

When a mother or father is willing to pay smugglers and risk the lives of their own children by sending them on a dangerous journey to the U.S. with no guarantees, you know the situation must be dire. As the most powerful nation on earth, we must do better than creating a climate of hatred against innocent souls who only want a chance to grow up. Of course, we cannot open our borders to everyone -- nobody is even suggesting that. But when lives are literally at stake, don't we owe it to these kids, their parents and the nation itself to do more than play partisan politics? When did the lives of boys and girls become leverage for things like the midterm elections or someone's campaign for office? This is a defining moment for America, and how we respond will speak volumes about our values and humanity.

The debate over border control and immigration reform is a very real and legitimate one to have. We can collectively find solutions to the difficult task of balancing security and the inclusive ideals of our country. But what we cannot and should not do is hold precious children hostage in the process. The next time we look at our own kids, imagine them having to go through this kind of an ordeal -- and imagine what it would feel like if protesters told them that nobody wanted them.

How can we close the gate and tell these kids to die in our backyard, rather than find a balance at our front door? My message to everyone: the next time you hear about migrant children near the border, just picture them as your own. Then think what you would want our government to do.