Illegal Immigration of Children: The Underlying Problem Nobody Seems to Talk About
According to news reports, about sixty thousand 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?
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 place 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.