WASHINGTON – As the only member of Congress to serve in both Vietnam and Iraq, Rep. Kerry Bentivolio, R-Mich., knows what a dysfunctional country looks like.
He has seen his share of suffering and squalor during 27 years of service in the U.S. Army and National Guard, and after evacuating from the surge in Iraq in 2007 with a neck wound.
On Monday, Bentivolio had just returned from a three-day fact-finding trip to Central America to see the source of the immigration crisis for himself.
The congressman told WND that conditions in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador are certainly not great and there is much hardship, but they are not war zones.
As for the recent avalanche of immigrants?
"I really wouldn't call them refugees," said Bentivolio, while also expressing great sympathy for their plight.
He noted, "Our kids are facing similar problems. We have to put our own house in order first."
The congressman said the children he saw in Central America do indeed have dangerous schools in dangerous cities and have few job prospects. But so do many children in the United States.
The immigration problem really boils down to this, said Bentivolio: "Democrats want the votes, and the Republicans want the cheap labor."
The Michigander has a unique perspective on both parties, as evidenced by a wall of his office. One side is a tribute to President Ronald Reagan. The other side salutes President John F. Kennedy.
He admires both men for their commitment to the American dream and believes JFK would be a Republican if he were alive today.
The congressman laments, "Democrats today no longer, 'ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.' Democrats today are all 'me, me, me, and gimmee, gimmee, gimmee.'"
Bentivolio believes the U.S. must fix its own economic woes before it can help Central Americans.
"The American dream should be for all the children in the Americas, but we need to lead by example," he said, mentioning that America's own children need hope, themselves.
"They say the immigrants are leaving because of few job opportunities. Well, look what is happening here," he said, referring to the record number of Americans, 92,120,000 in June, who did not participate in the labor force.
"We have kids here with the same problems, kids not getting an education and with few job prospects."
The congressman believes America needs lower taxes and fewer regulations to create those jobs and kick-start the economy.
He said he wouldn't even want to try to start a business now that the EPA has 70 pages of regulations, because he would need to hire someone full time just to read and comply with all the federal red tape.
Bentivolio has a three-point plan to solve the immigration crisis and restore hope in America.
- Secure the border and enforce the laws already on the books.
- Provide a secure environment for America's own children, so each child can be safe and become educated.
- Create job opportunities by lowering taxes and reducing regulations.
The congressman showed strong empathy for the Central Americans and found the trip an eye-opening experience.
He said El Salvador was too dangerous to go out at night, and Honduras "was pretty much the same thing. Guatemala was in better shape; we had less security with us."
"The kids were great, like all kids hungry to learn and get an education. They want to do the right thing. But we have the same issues they are facing right here in America, and we have to take care of Americans first. We're the ones who pay the taxes, we're the ones who need to take care of Americans."
As for America's neighbors to the South, he emphasized, "We need to be humane, understanding and patient."
"But we need to close our border and fix the problem we have now. They need to go home to their country of origin."
Bentivolio said the key to solving the crisis is not complex.
"If we had secure borders, we wouldn't have this problem. We need to send a strong message that, if you want to come to America, do it legally, and get in line. That's it, it's very simple. Get in line."
That would also, he remarked, spare the immigrants from putting their lives on the line and making perilous journeys in the attempt to enter the U.S. illegally.
He seemed particularly moved by what he saw in El Salvador, the poorest of the three countries he visited. The sight of children living in shacks made of corrugated steel reminded him of what he'd seen years ago in Vietnam.
Bentivolio said fellow congressman, Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., a dentist of 25 years, found the children healthy, well fed and without cavities.
The congressional delegation met with the U.S. ambassador and security personnel who said the gangs control the schools and decide who goes where. Most children leave school before the sixth grade. The congressman said it was not unlike Chicago, in some key respects.
And it was not hard to understand at all why they want to seek a better life up north.
But Bentivolio felt the sudden surge seemed of immigrants was instigated by President Obama's decision to stop deporting minors in the country illegally.
"All talk of the DREAM Act fuels the coyotes. It encourages people to take the risk."
He said the coyotes charge $3,000-to-$7,000 per person, guaranteeing three attempts and offering no refunds, but what they are really selling is hope, fraught with danger.
"They quickly learn how dangerous it is, with many injured and killed during the journey. Some abused physically and sexually."
So, the congressman observed, rather then spending what money they have at home, on education, food, clothing or starting a business, they are sending relatives North to an uncertain fate.
Follow Garth Kant on Twitter @DCgarth