Why do Americans care if migrant children are housed in a poor environment?

“Government Watchdog Finds Squalid Conditions in Border Centers” (nytimes) and similar are upsetting to quite a few Americans (at least my friends on Facebook are constantly expressing their anguish on this subject).

It might seem obvious why they’re upset. Nobody wants to see children living in a bad environment.

But is it obvious?

Federal and state governments provide housing for millions of children who are not migrants. Some of this is directly operated public housing. Some is the Feds giving Section 8 vouchers so that people who don’t work can live in what might turn out to be some crummy neighborhoods.

The result is American-born children living in, for example, the “Top 25 Most Dangerous Neighborhoods in America”. See also this article on crime in New York City’s public housing.

The terrible environment for American-born children housed by the Federal government has persisted for decades without any serious objections from voters (who keep returning the same politicians to office to continue the same policies!). Now the Feds are providing a terrible environment for non-American children and it is a crisis that people say they’re motivated to address (as long as they don’t have to house any migrants in their own homes!).

One could argue that the children in dangerous crumbling taxpayer-funded (and sometimes government-run) housing are free to walk out at any time, unlike at the migrant concentration camps. A child who lives in a gang-plagued project is as free as Bill Gates to check into a 5-star hotel on the other side of town. Yet the practical value of that freedom seems to be limited, as evidenced by the fact that many families have stayed in these projects for multiple generations.

Why the interest in migrant children and the lack of interest in American children for whom the government provides housing?

Separately, have we reached a high water mark for the discrepancy between expressed concern and practical action? There are only about 10 million people in Honduras. If they could deposit the expressed goodwill of Americans who say that they want to help migrants, every Honduran could live in luxury and ease. Imagine if everyone who posted on Facebook against the Trumpenfuhrer’s concentration camps sent a check to a Honduran. Why, at that point, would any Honduran be motivated to make the trek to the U.S. border?

I poked around a bit among the Facebook virtuous say-gooders.

  • Say-gooder 1: The conditions are horrible there … Policy is political- but the treatment of these humans by US is disgusting. We are not that. Dignity is precious.
  • Me: “Revealed preference” as the economists say. Dignity for Hondurans is not, in fact, as precious to the average American as a new car for him/herself. That’s why the money is spent on a new car instead of being sent to help the Honduran enjoy a comfortable life south of the border.
  • Me: If you would like to spend your own money to rent an apartment in Mexico for migrants so that they don’t have to risk the border crossing and internment in a concentration camp, I will be happy to match your spending dollar for dollar.
  • Say-gooder 1: You have to be that pedantic? How horrible these conditions are to humans, people are being treated -families separated, conditions undignified. I pay taxes, btw. Treat other people, even refugees, with dignity. Why not? The political allocation of funds (or profiteering) is different than the basic humanitarian treatment of other humans. Call your congressperson or run for Congress.

  • Me: [people in Santa Monica who say that they want to help migrants and also make housing more affordable should turn their soon-to-be-vacant 227-acre airport into 40,000 units of housing instead of a park for existing wealthy/housed residents. This to chip away at the 568,000-unit shortfall of affordable homes in Los Angeles]
  • LA-based say-gooder: … I don’t think 40,000 is a correct number in any scenario, because that’s a hugely disproportionate ask of Santa Monica vs. the homeless population in the entire region as a whole. If you want to make such demands, at least demand it of everyone (including L.A. which by territory is the largest city and also has land available), not just Santa Monica.
  • Me: Why is it an ASK for Santa Monica? If immigration into the U.S. makes our country better, why wouldn’t immigration into Santa Monica make Santa Monica better?
  • LA-based say-gooder: Is there a reason you singling out Santa Monica specifically?
  • Me: Of all of the cities in the U.S., Santa Monica is the only one that I know of that is planning to shut down its city-owned airport. So it is the only city that is about to free up a huge vacant lot. AND it happens to be in Greater LA, where there is a shortfall of affordable housing. AND folks there say that they are passionate about helping those with low incomes. So it their words are sincere, it is odd that they are passing up what seems like an obvious opportunity to align their deeds with their words.
  • LA-based say-gooder: [Santa Monica shouldn’t have to do this. It is burdensome. Immigration, even from other parts of LA or the U.S., will make Santa Monica worse off.]

7 thoughts on “Why do Americans care if migrant children are housed in a poor environment?

  1. I think people care because it makes Trump look bad. They don’t really care. That’s why, in some cases, if you want cruel, heartless, fascist right-wing policies enacted, it’s more effective to vote for the candidate considered to be on the left, where such policies can fly under the radar and no one will care too much.

  2. Phil: “Kids in cages” may be a liberal “build the wall and mexico will pay for it.” Just a nonsensical marketing statement vaguely related to various values the coalition holds.

    • One is an actual thing that is happening, and the other is a delusion promise. How are they similar?

  3. So your modest proposal is that anyone who is in a space controlled by the federal government should suffer as much as the most miserable person who lives in subsidized housing?

    Getting rid of visitor toilets and air conditioning at IRS offices will surely discourage frivolous appeals!

    Having federal prisoners sleep on the floor with no mattresses will surely be a deterrent to crime!

    Not providing clean drinking water to prisoners of war will surely keep them weak and unable to cause trouble!

    Heck, what are these cushy offices we provide to senators and congresspeople? They can move their offices to the nearest public housing project!

    (Hmm, I’m liking this last one. It might actually result in improvements to public housing….)

  4. Don’t hold your breath waiting for Santa Monica airport to be turned into a park or developed into anything useful. My hometown (pop 1.3M) had an airport CYXD in the middle of the city until 2013. Now the nearest airport CYEG is at least a 35-60min drive away from downtown (depending on traffic and weather). The mayor immediately bulldozed the runways and promised new parks and affordable housing, but ever since then it’s only been squabbling between politically-connected developers and soaring environmental cleanup costs, with no actual new construction or improvements.

  5. Arguments in bad faith with random people on Facebook, definitely a great way to decide if our concentration camps are good or bad.

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