The story of a young boy fleeing his tormentors in the murderous Central American country of Honduras and enduring a dangerous journey to Bradenton to be reunited with his parents reflects the rampant desperation that compels illegal entry into the United States.
Christopher's harrowing tale is only one of thousands about children flooding across the border to join their families, many already here for years. Documented in the first of an occasional Herald series of articles on Nov. 30, Christopher, as he requested to be called, fled with an aunt in the dead of night in July 2013. He was one of more than 24,000 children who literally risked life and limb last year to escape the gangs, rapes, kidnappings and murders that plague many parts of Central American and Mexico.
For some Americans, they are not welcome here and should be deported -- despite what should be considered their refugee status, a very difficult legal hurdle to prove in these cases.
Immigration has been a hot-button issue for many years, and reform has once again entered the national spotlight. President Obama's controversial executive order, issued last month, would shield around 4.4 million undocumented immigrants who are parents of U.S. citizens from deportation, albeit temporarily.
Republican leaders are pushing back, saying his unilateral action undermines our democracy and likely violates the law. Threats of legislation and lawsuits to block the order became reality last week when Texas led a 17-state coalition that filed suit against the Obama administration.
Under Obama's order, Christopher's parents, Joel and Nina, could apply for work permits and obtain driver's licenses, but must pass background checks first. While that does not directly benefit Christopher, there are other legal pathways for him to avoid deportation.
What this nation needs, though, is a bipartisan solution on immigration reform that makes sense for the entire country -- without the hardline partisan posturing that keeps blocking sensible negotiations. Even key Republicans admit it is not feasible to deport the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, and they acknowledge the system is broken.
Voters shift to compromise
An NBC-Wall Street Journal survey after the November election uncovered a promising statistic. More Republicans favor compromise over intransigence than four years ago -- 49 percent today versus 27 percent in 2010.
Those voters should be pressing their representatives to break the political gridlock in Washington and work with Democrats on the country's many challenges. Americans are weary of the "my way or the highway" approach to governance.
Some GOP leaders are open to talks on immigration, at least showing interest in attacking the problem. A bill passed by the Senate last year included some moderate Republican support, and looked like a good bet for House approval. But House GOP leaders embraced the hard-line view and refused to allow a vote.
Leadership, not obstinancy
Could Obama's executive order, though an unprecedented unilateral act, serve as the political pry bar that leverages some positive movement in Congress?
That looks unlikely today as the House views the administration's action as a call to arms and a defense for an uncompromising posture. That lack of leadership and responsibility on a critical issue could be reversed when Republicans assume majority status in the Senate come January.
Putting a human face -- especially a child's -- on the issue makes the debate less abstract and more personal. Christopher's story, like so many, begs for compassion.
Honduras has the world's highest murder rate. Christopher's uncle was kidnapped and murdered just for talking about his U.S. relatives. Christopher suffered beatings from older boys, got stabbed in the leg and yet remained silent, fearing his grandmother's house would be torched.
Now 12, he's a sixth-grader at Harllee Middle School, one of an estimated 744 immigrant students in Manatee County schools today.
Only Congress can adopt meaningful legislation, and immigration reform should be a high priority.