As recently as June, more than 10,000 children fleeing unchecked gang violence in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala made it here over the course of a month. Then, a major security crackdown in Mexico slowed the pace of their arrivals down to about 3,000 in August — the lowest rate since January and about the same as the pace of arrivals last year. It’s what passes for “normal” in this sad situation. Chief among them: How much did U.S. military intervention, deportation policy, and Drug War blunders contribute to making El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras unstable and dangerous places, especially for tweens and teens? A lot, actually. This growing realization prompted calls for the kids to be treated as legal refugees.Continue reading
What’s At Stake In The Border Debate
Call it irony or call it a nightmare, but the “crisis” of Central American children crossing the U.S.-Mexican border, which lasted for months amid fervent and angry debate, is now fading from the news. The media stories have been legion, the words expended many. And yet, as the “crisis” leaves town, as the sound and fury die down and attention shifts elsewhere (even though the children continue to arrive), the real factors that would have made sense of what’s been happening remain essentially untouched and largely unmentioned. It couldn’t be stranger — or sadder.
Since late June 2014, the “surge” of those thousands of desperate children entering this country has been in the news. Sensational stories were followed by fervent demonstrations and counter-demonstrations with emotions running high. And it’s not a debate that stayed near the southern border either. In my home state, Massachusetts, Governor Deval Patrick tearfully offered to detain some of the children — and that was somehow turned into a humanitarian gesture that liberals applauded and anti-immigrant activists decried. Meanwhile the mayor of Lynn, a city north of Boston, echoed nativists on the border, announcing that her town didn’t want any more immigrants. The months of this sort of emotion, partisanship, and one-upmanship have, however, diverted attention from the real issues. As so often is the case, there is so much more to the story than what we’ve been hearing in the news.Continue reading
As Migrant Children Face Backlash, Communities Mobilize To Drown Out Hate
On a Saturday morning earlier this summer, I joined a group of immigrant rights activists under a canopy of tall trees in Lower Manhattan. We were preparing to form a human chain around a federal immigration courthouse to protest the unbridled deportations tearing immigrant families apart. Our action was held in tandem with coordinated efforts occurring that day around the nation.
Hundreds of people began to amass: Latino families with their children, workers still in uniform from the night shift, Korean grandmothers with matching visors, youth activists known as “Dreamers,” and a church group. The organizers were from Palestine, Mexico and Sri Lanka. I saw many familiar faces. Together, members of this group had taken caravans of buses together to march with tens of thousands of supporters in Washington, D.C.; we had faced arrest at civil disobedience actions; we had canvassed New York’s five boroughs; and we had fasted for weeks in the shadow of the Capital. There were many members of the press and few police.
We all understood what was at stake: It was June 28, one year and a day since the Senate had passed an immigration reform bill that Congress had since failed to act upon. The window for potential reform was growing narrower by the day.Continue reading
Running For Their Lives: The Child Migrant Crisis
As the Department of Homeland Security tries to deliver busloads of Central American children and families to places of temporary safety, shrieking demonstrators in California, Arizona, and other states are barring the way and demanding these kids be dumped over the border.
These outbursts resemble the ugly mentality that, in 1939, prompted our government to send a ship with more than 900 German Jews aboard back to Europe where many were eventually killed by the Nazis. Like them, many of the Central American children will be murdered if they are returned home. That’s what the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees concluded after interviewing hundreds of these kids.
“The M-18 gang told me if I returned to school, I wouldn’t make it home alive,” said a 17-year-old boy identified as Alfonso.
“I was threatened by a gang. In El Salvador, they take young girls, rape them and throw them in plastic bags,” said 15-year-old Maritza. Like Alfonso, she fled to the United States.
Our government has apprehended more than 50,000 children so far. Protestors objecting to their arrival call them “invaders,” but these kids are refugees. They travel here on their own out of desperation — to escape murder, rape and conscription into gangs. And the United States bears much responsibility for the violence they’re fleeing.Continue reading