by Joe Shea
July 9, 2014
A CHILD AT THE BORDER
Striding across the bare desert floor behind the fences of of the McCallen border facility, President Obama approached a soldier who stood with his legs apart and his rifle at the ready
As the President approached, he seemed to stiffen his stance.
"Get out of the way, soldier," the President said.
"Sir, my Lieutenant told me to take orders from no one but him," the nervous soldier replied, speaking in the loud, stiff, formal language of the military.
"Do you recognize me, soldier? Do you know who I am?"
"Yes, sir!" the soldier answered. "You are the President of the United States."
"And do you know my rank in the military, son?" the President asked quietly. Behind him the cameras whirred and flashed.
"You are the Commander-in-.Chief, sir!" the soldier shouted.
The President nodded toward the beribboined man in uniform beside him. "Do you recognize this man, soldier?"
"Yes, sir! That is Gen. Dempsey, Chairman oif the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sir!"
"Get out of the President's way, soldier," Gen. Dempsey said softly.
"Sir, my Lieutenant told me to take orders from no one but him!"
"Geez," Gen. Dempsey said, wiping his brow. It was over 100 degrees on the flat plains of McCallen. There was no breeze.
"Where is this lieutenant of yours?" Dempsey asked.
"I'm right here," said a young man, maybe 25 or so, standing at attention off to the President's left.
"What's going on, Lieutenant?"
"Sir, on my orders the corporal is guarding the door to the children's hospital ward. There are sick children in here. Some of them have contagious diseases, including dengue fever and scabies, sir. I did not want any of the members of your party, or the President, to be exposed, sir."
"I've had my shots, son," Obama replied.
"That was thoughtful of you, Lieutenant," Gen. Dempsey said. "Now get the soldier out of the President's way."
"Yes, sir! Gladly, sir!"
The media was enjoying the brief confrontation. When the soldier moved away, opening the door as he did, the camera lights went off and the print people began to scribble their notes. It was a fine story.
The door opened on a long, dormitory-style area with polished floors and two long rows of hospital beds, one on each side of the room, all with fresh white linens. Under the gleaming white top sheets, the brown eyes of small nut-brown children peered out carefully. A group of nurses stood huddled and quiet towards the end of the big room.
"Get someone from the Quartermaster General and from the Corps of Engineers here, General," the President said to Dempsey.
"Yes. Mr. President," Gen. Dempsey said. He turned and whispered to an aide. Within half a minute, two more soldiers entered the room, both colonels, both nearly at a run.
"Which one of you is the Engineers?" the President asked.
One of the colonels, a short, stocky man with a chest full of ribbons, quickly stepped forward.
"I am, sir!" he said in a clear, strong voice.
"Get the air-conditioning people in here on the double," the Presidnet said. "I want this room at 70. Now!" The colonel snapped a quick salute, said "Sir!" and moved away on the double.
In the middle of the room, the President stopped at the foot of the bed of one young boy, his round and handsome face bathed in sweat. The President moved to the head of the bed, beside the boy.
"Como se llama?" the President asked gently.
"Victor," the boy rasped.
"Get me a tall glass of ice water," the President said. As if by magic, it was instantly produced. The President bent over the boy and lifted his head from the pillow, letting it rest in the palm of his hand. "Toma la," (take it), he said. The cameras began whirring again. Gratefully, the boy sipped the water.
The President turned toward the center of the media pack. There were 29 television cameras and a dozen members of the White House press corps, mostly from the wire services and the big newspapers. There was something different in the President's voice as he slowly moved his right hand toward his chest, with his finger pointed at his heart.
He spoke in a soft, husky voice, but there was a hint of steel in it.
Like a cloud passing between the earth and the sun, a look of infinite sadness crossed his face. He recovered and brightened up.
"This is my child," he said gravely.
"These are all my children," the President continued, a swift gesture sweeping across the hospital dormitory. He lowered he palm of his left hand and gently lowered Victor's head back to the pillow. The lights and the buzz among the media pack seemed to double in intensity. He looked directly into the cameras.
"As a father, as a human being, as a Christian, an American and as President, I am here for these children. They have crossed a thousand miles of Mexico in pickup trucks, on the backs of trains, many of them so young they are helpless.
"Some of them are sick, and all of them need to be with their parents. Today I am their parent. I will not abandon them to the drug cartels, to the gangs, to the smugglers.
"They are my children now," he said. He turned back to Gen. Dempsey.
"Where is our quartermaster. General?"
"Here, sir," the other colonel said, stepping forward and standing at attention.
"Te gustas helados, Victor?" the President asked, turning back to the boy, who managed a weak smile. "Here's what I want, Colonel. I want a bowl of ice cream for each one of these children, with chocolate syrup and strawberry preserves on top. Can you get that for me, Colonel?"
"Sir, yes, sir!" the colonel said, snapping a salute. The President returned it and the man quickly moved toward the nurses at the end of the room. Ed Henry, one of the Fox News guys, boldly ventured a question.
"Mr. President, what do you say to those who will charge you are exploiting these children for publicity?"
Obama smiled, dipping his head tp consider the question, before lifting it back up a few seconds later to reply. Now his voice took on the assurance and calm he normally faced the press with.
"I would plead guilty to that," he said, "because I need your help to make the crisis we are facing here in Texas, and in California and Arizona, to make this crisis and these children and their plight real to the American people.
"We are not a people that lets children suffer when we can prevent it. Americans don't let children suffocate in cars, get beaten half to death, get sexually abused, get locked away and starved in a basement, get shot down in cold blood in a classroom - not if we can help it.
"We can't let these children get sent back to the gang and drug violence that drove them here in the first place. But at the same time, while we must take responsibility for the poor, helpless and even sick children, we cannot allow our borders to be crossed with impunity, and let smugglers lure parents with promises of amnesty - for a price that often represents several years of wages.
"So these crimes must be addressed, and they will be. But for now, our strongest and most important need is to provide a way for these children to be reunited with their families and returned to their countries.
"To do that, I have asked Congress for an appropriation to not only help us care for these children, but to strengthen our border security and hire more personnel to do that.
"As they always do," the President said with a frown, "the Republicans seem to have a problem with that.
"They don't want to spend the money to do what they say they want us to do. They want to embarrass this Administration more than they want to solve this problem.
"But I hope my fellow Americans will reach out to their representatives and tell them to fund these solutions.
"You just need to call the Capitol switchboard - that's 202-224-3121 - and ask for your Congressmen and Senators, and tell them what you want.
"We need to get them off the dime and to do the right thing, for these children and for America, and for the good of our own souls."
Obama smiled again and spoke more softly.
"I would hate to appear at Heaven's gate and try to tell St. Peter I couldn't spare a glass of water and a caring hand for a sick and helpless child like Victor, and that a rich and great nation like ours can't help thousands of young children like him."
Again, the President frowned for a moment.
"We are better than that, and most Americans know it," he said. While Congress refuses to act, they are reaching into their own pockets, and through their charities and churches, trying to help these kids and get this whole issue straightened out. But they need help from Congress, too.
"Together," he said with conviction, "we cand will do what needs to be done.
"Now," the President said, "let's get some ice cream!"
Even before he finished talking and moved further down the row of beds, greeting the sick children,, the story of the President's visit was crossing the AP wires and getting read directly by news readers to millions of television viewers around the world.
Seconds later, a flood of telephone calls hit the Capitol switchboard like a tidal wave.
Joe Shea is Editor-in-Chief of The American Reporter and an active Democrat.