|America's Undocumented Children|
Illegal Immigration of Children:
The Underlying Problem Nobody Seems to Talk About
by Roger Olson
July 24, 2014
According to news reports, about 60,000 unaccompanied children have arrived in the U.S. from Central America via Mexico in the last one to two years. Some have died in the desert attempting to cross the border alone. Many are being smuggled to the border by “mules” who charge their families large amounts of money. (Why this is not being labeled a form of human trafficking by anyone is curious.) Once the children arrive and are caught, they are warehoused in cramped, crowded facilities indefinitely.
These children have become the ping-pong balls in a partisan battle of words between Democrats and Republicans. Instead of banding together to find viable, compassionate, humane solutions, both sides are digging in and arguing ferociously over who is at fault and what to do with the children. Pundits and writers of letters to editors (especially in Texas) have vented their spleens—even at the children as if they are vicious felons. One columnist suggested sending them all to the U.S. compound in Quantanamo Bay in Cuba to be held there indefinitely. Obviously he meant—as a sign to other Central American children of what faces them if they come here illegally. (They will be stored in a concentration camp previously reserved for accused terrorists.)
I’ve read all kinds of proposals for what to do with these children and how to stop others from flocking into the U.S. “Close the border!” people cry. I would like to ask them how exactly anyone can possibly “close” a border that runs more than a thousand miles through deserts. And what would they have border officials do when they see an eight year old boy or girls walking through desert toward them? Shoot them? Simply turn them back—to walk many miles through scorching heat to…where? They were probably dropped off a mile or two from the border, given a crude map, and told they are now on their own. If turned away at the border they (remember we’re talking about eight to twelve year olds in many cases) will have no one waiting for them where they were dropped off. They’ll simply die in the desert.
Many letters to the editors of newspapers in Texas and other Southwestern states express the most cruel, heard-hearted opinions about these children—as if they are all gangsters and criminals. Most are not. The most common “solution” proposed is “Return them to their home countries immediately—without any due process.” The problems with that are so obvious these writers must be either stupid or cruel or both.
First, many of the children would not be able to tell anyone exactly where their home is. They might be able to say what country they’re from, but returning them to their home countries would require permission from those countries—unless we drop them from airplanes with parachutes (something I think many Texans and others wouldn’t mind). Second, many of the children would be returning to locales where they would be snapped up by drug gangs to be used as slaves and eventually turned into gang members—probably to be killed at some point. Third, many of the children left their home countries because they were faced with utter hopelessness—for a decent human life. They were snared in endless hunger, lack of medical care, no education and violence all around them.
A famous poem on a plaque inside the base of the Statue of Liberty says:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
Perhaps this plaque should be removed or replaced with one that says “The golden door is now closed—especially to poor Central American children.”
The underlying problem that (so far) I have heard no one talking about is our American affluence, including conspicuous consumption and luxury, promoted to the world via movies and television as the result of “the American dream,” combined with our boast to be a “nation of immigrants.” While we do have our own poor in the U.S., most of them are living in the lap of luxury compared with many people in Latin America. And we love to show off our prosperity and affluence, even our luxurious possessions and lifestyles, to the rest of the world—including our neighbors. Then we expect them to stay away. But we are like a magnet to the poor next door. Who can blame them for being drawn almost inexorably to us?
My wife and I often watch a television show called “House Hunters International” on the Home and Garden channel. But my stomach turns when I see U.S. rich people south of our border to spend hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions, of dollars on mansions on beaches in Latin American countries where just a few miles away thousands of children are literally suffering malnutrition, infant mortality (that could be alleviated), lack of education, and are living like animals in hovels.
You question that? A few years ago my wife and I took our one and only vacation to Mexico. We stayed in a very simple, inexpensive “eco-resort” on a beach south of Cancun. In the nearby town and surrounding jungles we saw with our own eyes two shocking things. Lining the beaches near our extremely modest “resort” (not even electricity in the cabanas) were enormous, luxurious gated resorts inhabited almost exclusively by Americans. In the nearby town we saw one neighborhood made up of what looked like animal barns surrounded by mud with pigs and chickens. These hovels were inhabited by women and children. The children were obviously malnourished (hugely extended, bloated stomachs typical of that disorder) and “playing” in mud among the pigs and chickens.
These people “know” that within reach is a paradise of affluence and luxury, free universal education, health care, food and…hope. And yet we who live in the lap of luxury expect them to stay away.
The problem is often framed as “those bad Latin Americans who want to come and take what we have” rather than as “we rich Americans who show off our luxury and want to keep it all to ourselves.”
As a Christian, I ask my fellow Texans and others (many of who consider themselves Christians) to consider Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus. Who are we, America, in the parable? Who are the Central American children standing or sitting on one side of our border or the other?
Recently a Christian man in my town, very well known, a “pillar of the community,” purchased a partially built mansion on the edge of town with twenty-three thousand square feet of living space. He is finishing it. By all accounts he’s a very good man, a respected family man, church members and philanthropist. But twenty-three thousand square feet? When not far away is a camp now inhabited by hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Central American children being held indefinitely because they crossed our border without permission looking for a tiny bit of that affluence—just enough to live a human life.
But the solution is not just individual charity; the only real, long-term solution can only be a massive rededication of our American ingenuity and productivity to solve Central America’s economic problems.
Over the last century and a half we, the United States of America, have directly or indirectly invaded Central American countries numerous times (look it up using Google or any internet search engine!) to protect our economic interests. What if we instead “invaded” them to enhance their economic interests? What if we cut back our extremely bloated “defense” budget and devoted the savings to creating a corps of young men and women to go to Central America for only one purpose—to build schools, housing, medical facilities, etc.? Sure, we’ve made feeble attempts at that, but in the past our investments in such projects have been miniscule compared to the need. And our government would need to tell those governments that if they interfere by skimming the financial investments in their countries intended for the poor to fill their own budgets we, the United States of America, will invade them with armed troops to overthrow them and replace them with humane and honest governments—just as we have invaded them many times in the past to shore up dishonest, cruel and dictatorial regimes that would be our puppets—not to help their poor but to protect American corporations’ economic interests there. And just as we invaded Panama just a few years ago to overthrow a corrupt dictator.
But, ultimately, we need to “down size” our affluence in order to help our neighbors to the South that we have throughout our history and theirs regarded as our special “sphere of influence.” To a very large extent, our affluence is supported by their poverty. In many places in Central America, historically, we have treated their people virtually as slaves of our corporations and backed that up with military might and with CIA plots. We must begin to see ourselves as the “rich man” in Jesus’ parable and them as Lazarus. Or else we will be judged.
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How Christians Can Help Undocumented Children Right Now
by the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez of the NHCLC on how Christians should respond to immigrant children.
July 23, 2014
Rev. Samuel Rodriguez is the president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, a group whose mission it is to represent and serve the Hispanic Evangelical Community.
This week, the NHCLC—in partnership with Buckner International, Convoy of Hope, Somebody Cares and CONELA—is launching an online initiative called For His Children. The campaign seeks to give Christians the ability to donate resources to unaccompanied immigrant children, to communicate to families in Central America about the dangers of sending their unaccompanied children to the U.S., and to share the Gospel with them.
We recently spoke with Rev. Rodriguez about the situation on the border and the For His Children campaign.
Why is it that so many unaccompanied children are coming to the United States recently?
We have a 2008 George W. Bush law that was written with great intentions. It was an anti-sex trafficking law. That law basically says if you’re a child, and you come from El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Central America—if you come there’s a strong possibility you may be engaged in sex trafficking—therefore we’re going to protect you.
That law served as the fodder taking place in El Salvador—based on nothing other than myths and hyperbole—that the Obama administration was going to, in essence, grant deferment to all the kids that arrived here before the end of this year. So we’re looking at kids coming up to the U.S. border because they believe they’re going to be granted amnesty.
Here’s our message [to families in Central America]: “Don’t send your children to the U.S. border.” Here’s why: If you’re parents in El Salvador, and you are attempting to protect your children from drugs and gang violence ... and you want to send your children to America to be protected, the probability of your children, by staying in the United States without their parents in East LA, joining the same gang they were fleeing from in El Salvador is very high. That’s not anecdotal extrapolation. That’s based on studies that have been done.
If they stay in their country of origin with their parents, parents can serve as a firewall against many of those social ills.
For the children who do come here, is the reality that they most likely will be sent back because the pretense that they came under was false?
No. Over 80 percent will stay. These kids are different because of the Bush law. They have to go to a hearing. It’s the law. They can’t be deported back. Over 80 percent of those kids will never appear for their hearing, and they become undocumented.
For this recent influx of children that are here in detention centers and that may end up undocumented long term, is there anything Christians can do?
We don’t want their parents sending them here, but if they are coming here, I need to make this clear: These are kids. These are little children. I have three children of my own.
So what should Christians be doing? We should not at all ever be engaged in rhetoric from either political ideology. We should engage in one thing: Ministering to the needs of these children—physical needs and spiritual needs.
Spiritually, as a pastor, I want to see these children come to Christ at large because I love them so much. These are our children, by the way. I have a problem with ... I can’t even use the term “illegal children.” I can’t do that. I understand that they came in here illegally, and I understand they’re undocumented, but no child is illegal. Every child is made in the image of God.
So what should we do as Christians? Immediately, we should make sure they’re taken care of. We at the NHCLC ... we’re looking at creating a coalition of supplies and resources. Meaning if a kid needs shoes, we’re going to provide shoes through Buckner. If they need food, if they need a change of clothes, we’re going to work with Convoy of Hope and Somebody Cares. We’re working together through our churches in Texas. We have over 6,000 NHCLC churches in Texas alone.
The government is not granting us access. The government is not granting anyone access—any NGO or any faith group. We have access to the kids who have broken in but have not been caught. So we’re ministering to the kids that have been able to come over the border, that have not been caught by immigration and are in the border town.
The only exception would be the Red Cross. They are permitting the Red Cross to have access. We want to reach these kids even when they’re released from detention.
If our readers wanted to get involved to support your efforts, how could they do that?
We are launching a website called For His Children, and we would love them to engage. It doesn’t even have to be money. You could send a pair of shoes over. You could purchase it online and send it over through Buckner. We want to provide shoes. We want to provide school supplies. We want to provide changes of clothes for these children.
Some of these kids come over barefoot. That’s not hyperbole. That’s not like something you’re making up for the sake of drawing emotion. I’ve been to the border. I was just in Mexico. These kids are coming over barefoot with minimal amounts of clothing. It’s just heartbreaking.
Murrieta, California broke my heart. To have over 100 adults spitting at a bus full of children, cursing, telling children, “Go home! We don’t want you here.” Listen, these are not 55-year-old, 45-year-old, even 30-year-old adults who came in here illegally. These are little kids. And to have 100+ adults with signs and banners and posters literally yelling at a bus to such an extent the bus driver has to turn around, and these kids are hearing curses coming at them—that is morally reprehensible. It is evil. It is anti-Christian. It is anti-American, and we should be ashamed of ourselves for responding in such a manner.
I saw those videos on the news. It was upsetting to see.
We must do better. We’re Christians. Christians first and foremost. Our Kingdom citizenship trumps everything.
These kids are here now. They’re devastated. Some of them were molested. Some of them were exploited. All of them have some sort of traumatic experience traveling 1,500 miles.
What should we do with them? We should show them the love of Jesus Christ. We should be Christians first and foremost. We should bring them good news because that’s what Christians do. Bring good news.
My final comment to your readers would be to pray that this recent crisis at the border does not resurrect the nativist, racist element that unfortunately still lies embedded in many segments of our population. Not everyone who is anti-illegal immigration is a racist. I am anti-illegal immigration. But there are segments of our society that view this through a prism of race, and we need to pit against that and build a firewall of love and of conviction and compassion.