Most often when we think of a "humanitarian crisis," we visualize desperate displaced families in Third World or war-torn countries, starving and diseased children dying in their mother's arms or large populations in faraway lands left homeless by some destructive act of nature.
Now the term is being applied in Texas as we have a humanitarian crisis on our doorstep.
The sad thing is that, except for some grandstanding by state leaders trying to make political hay of the situation, no one is quite sure what to do about it.
Tens of thousands of unaccompanied immigrant children, most from Central America, have crossed the border into South Texas. They have filled Border Patrol stations and special shelters set up to care for them temporarily as they are processed through our already clogged and inadequate immigration system.
There is a charge from some politicians that the influx of more than 47,000 youngsters in the past few months proves that our borders are not secure, and that we must get tougher on these illegals headed for the United States to escape the poverty and violence of their own countries.
Three top Texas officials -- Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Speaker of the House Joe Straus -- last week authorized spending $1.3 million a week for a "surge operation" by the Department of Public Safety to secure the border and protect Texans from the ills of illegal immigration.
"Texas can't afford to wait for Washington to act on this crisis, and we will not sit idly by while the safety and security of our citizens are threatened," Perry said. "Until the federal government recognizes the danger it's putting our citizens in by its inaction to secure the border, Texas law enforcement must do everything they can to keep our citizens and communities safe."
U.S. House Speaker John Boehner wants President Barack Obama to deploy the National Guard to the border to address the problem.
That's a complete misunderstanding, or perhaps a deliberate misrepresentation, of what is happening on the border.
First of all, we're talking about children and, in some cases, single mothers who are apprehended on entering the country. Because they had traveled across Mexico to get to the border, many are so tired, hungry and thirsty that they seek out the Border Patrol to surrender.
Rather than posing a threat to the safety of American citizens, they instead are posing a dilemma for all the leaders of this country who don't know what to do with them once they're here, and don't know how to discourage others from continuing to come.
The idea that more DPS or National Guard troops on the border will stop this flow is ridiculous. Unless they're planning to shoot the children while they're crossing over, a show of force is not the solution to this problem.
Under the law, minors from countries that don't border the U.S. who are caught illegally entering the country must be taken into custody. But because they can't be held longer than 72 hours at Border Patrol facilities, they are sent to shelters where they are housed, fed and educated while awaiting an immigration hearing. The Department of Health and Human Services contracts with the shelters.
But the situation will become more dire. Officials estimate that there may be as many as 90,000 new young immigrants in the country by the end of the year.
A Senate committee last week approved a bill that would provide $100 million that could be used to address the crisis, but money alone won't fix it.
Instead of the political grandstanding, our state and national leaders need to work together on this issue, realizing that they are required by law to do what is in the best interest of the child.
Then Congress needs to get busy and pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill.
But don't hold your breath for either.
Contact Bob Ray Sanders at firstname.lastname@example.org.