That similarity doesn't excuse the Central American children's violation of U.S. immigration laws. It does mean they shouldn't be treated like refuse to be quickly thrown back into the maelstrom from which they tried to escape.
Conservative pundit Dick Morris has suggested that the exodus of children - 57,000 since October - is part of a plot by President Obama. "He wants to create a one-party country in the United States by taking 11 or 12 million Latinos - immigrants - gluing them to the Democratic Party, and sending the message to Central America and Mexico, 'Come on in - we'll never throw you out,' " Morris said.
That's hogwash, of course. The children came to this country for the same reason their predecessors did a century ago: to have a chance at a better life. And rather than being a political asset for Obama, they have given him a headache. They can't stay here illegally, but they can't be deported quickly. Obama must ensure their safety until they are returned to their families.
Fortunately, not everyone is trying to use the crisis to score political points. Two Texas legislators, Republican Sen. John Cornyn and Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar, are sponsoring a bill to change a 2008 human-trafficking law that makes it more difficult to deport Central American children who enter the United States illegally by requiring full immigration hearings beforehand. There is no similar requirement for children from Mexico.
It would be something if this bipartisan effort became a catalyst for congressional approval of a full-scale overhaul of the nation's immigration laws. But don't hold your breath. Politicians' inability to reach consensus on the issue is a reflection of their constituents' struggle with it. People are concerned about the illegal routes that thousands of immigrants - adults and children - take to get here.
Their concern is justified, but they need to understand that immigrants, especially young people, can become hardworking, taxpaying citizens who will help ensure this nation's future. Most immigrants would prefer not to break the law. Many would gladly choose to cross the border legally if Congress changed the laws to give them better alternatives. Instead of demonizing immigrants, let's heed Emma Lazarus' words.