The sudden influx of 57,000 unaccompanied minors has pushed immigration to the top policy issue in Americans’ minds, according to a recent Gallup poll. But the story has also grossly complicated the immigration policy agenda for the near future. Opponents of reform have insisted for years that our borders are not secure–despite all evidence to the contrary that illegal immigration is down to a 40-year low. BUt pictures of thousands of children who’ve managed to cross the border without permission are worth a thousand statistics showing a decline in overall illegal immigration.

Many, if not most, of these kids walk right up to border agents and turn themselves in under the mistaken belief that they will be given permission to stay if they do so. Now that Gov. Rick Perry has decided to station National Guard troops on the border, the kids will likely walk up to them with the same eagerness. It’s a tragedy of huge proportions and one that is not amenable to soundbite solutions.

The good news is that the number of children coming has dropped precipitously: a month ago more than 1900 kids a week entered; this last week that number has dropped to about 600. Clearly the U.S. government must discourage these kids from coming–and as painful as it is to contemplate returning children to crime-ridden, dangerous situations in their home countries, most of these kids will have to go home. But we can’t just put them on airplanes headed to Tegucigalpa or San Salvador. There is a legal process that must be followed, which takes time and requires the children be humanely treated with appropriate housing and medical care.

Meanwhile, 57,000 kids are here. Many of them have family already in the U.S. and the best solution for these kids is to allow them to remain with family until their deportation hearings occur. But for those who do not have family members, housing must be found, which is testing even pro-imigrant lawmakers who fear a backlash among their constituents. Anti-immigrant groups are exploiting the issue for fund-raising purposes and stirring up considerable hate in the process. Talk of “invasions” and “disease-ridden” kids and gang-bangers being thrust into local communities is both ugly and dishonest. Its only purpose is to stir protest and fill the coffers of anti-immigrant groups that fundraise around this issue. Unfortunately, lots of politicians are succumbing to the dishonest campaign–including a number of Democratic lawmakers. More and more cities and states are saying no to taking the kids. THe result will be a stain on America’s reputation and a disaster for the children.