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Editorial: While D.C. While D.C. dawdles, locals step up on border crisis

When California Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg planned a trip for a legislative delegation to El Salvador and Guatemala months ago, he had no idea he’d be stepping into an international crisis.

But Steinberg seized the opportunity to discuss a topic of great importance to his state and the Central American nation when meeting with the president of El Salvador, Salvador Sánchez Cerén, the vice president, various ministers and the leader of the Salvadoran Legislature last week.

They talked about the need for opportunity and security for the country’s children so they aren’t compelled to take the risky trip north. They talked about how California leaders were committed to treating the thousands of unaccompanied immigrant children detained at the border in recent months as humans, not political hostages.

They talked about a $277 million aid package from the U.S.’s Millennium Challenge Corp. and its promise of vocational education for Salvadoran youngsters and a long-term solution to ease migration.

And they talked about how it was held up by Salvador legislators dragging their feet on a money-laundering bill that was part of the conditions of the funds. Legislators were sticking on the requirement for financial disclosure by public officials.

After those meetings, and on the same day a photo was printed in San Salvador’s national newspaper with Steinberg talking with Sanchez and other dignitaries, the legislature finally passed that money-laundering bill.

Now, maybe Steinberg and the California delegation played a role in getting that legislation passed, maybe they didn’t. But their visit surely didn’t hurt.

“It was constructive trip,” the U.S. ambassador to El Salvador, Mari Carmen Aponte, said in a statement provided to The Sacramento Bee.

In any case, it was more than Congress and President Barack Obama have done to address the ongoing crisis of thousands of young refugees from Mexico and Central America who streamed into the United States without permission and often without an adult.

Six weeks after Obama called it a humanitarian crisis, the federal government still has no coordinated response. The president and the Republican-led House can’t agree on how much money to appropriate to process the kids, whether to send the National Guard to the border or who is more at fault that many immigrants believe undocumented kids will be granted amnesty. Like immigration reform itself, the politics have tied up coherent national response into intractable knots.

Into the breach have stepped state and local leaders, such as the California legislative delegation and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who last week offered up his city to shelter some of the detained immigrant children after a busload of kids was turned away in nearby Riverside County. City and state leaders across the country have opened their doors as well.

If that doesn’t shame federal leaders, then perhaps the increasing international attention will. Especially that from the world’s moral compass, Pope Francis.

In a letter to the Mexico/Holy See Colloquium on Migration and Development last week, the pope called on the “the international community to pay attention to this challenge” and to provide protection for the kids, not demonize them.

Pope Francis will likely have better luck than we did. In June, we wondered why international aid groups such as World Vision and international celebrities such as Angelina Jolie were silent about the border crisis.

So far, no Jolie, but we are happy to report that World Vision announced last week that it will be working on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border to aid the migrant children who are detained and to support those deported back to Honduras.

The world is starting to pay serious attention to the plight of thousands of refugee children. When will Washington do the same?