America’s Child Refugee Crisis

As a single mother who raised a child alone in America, I know full well what a difficult task that is, especially struggling through poverty through most of the years that I raised my daughter alone. When I read the stories about the children from Central America striking out on their own to reach the safety of what they think in some idolized fashion, is sanctuary in America, my heart breaks.

My heart breaks, because on some subliminal level, as a single mother, I can only imagine how much harder it is to raise children alone in Central America, where lawlessness is common thread of the culture. Furthering my discomfort about the facts that drive these children to our borders, is the attitude of the anti-immigration faction here in America that make claims that these children are “economic migrants manipulating our asylum system and should be made to leave.”

These children are not mere migrants out to manipulate our system, they are refugees from crime, violence, rape and other horrific acts that most Americans can not even begin to wrap their heads around, or even care about. This anti-immigration faction of America is most shameful in my opinion, lacking compassion and understanding, blaming innocent children for seeking a better life in the land of the free.

Saul Elbein writes in the New Republic on the situation in Guatemala that is driving children from that country to America:

The only model of power that exists in Guatemala is, in other words, terroristic, extra-legal, and dominated by violence. So is it any surprise that after the war, on the streetswhere people grasped for the scraps that weft, where children grew up with no chance at wealth and less at respectpirate organizations like the MS-13 grew?

What we’re seeing in Guatemala is not quite, in other words, a crime wave. It’s simply the way things have been there for a long time, pushed to the next level. If you are a civilian there, beneath the labelssoldier; gangster; policeman; army; cartelis but one underlying reality: men with guns who do what they want and take what they want. Your options are to buy your own security and gunmen; to join a gang yourself; or to leave.

And so many leave. They leave for the reasons that most of our ancestors came to America, of coursethe ones who left places like Italy and Ireland and Russia and China. They came for a better life, and part of “better life” meant not having to live someplace where everything belonged to the aristocracy, and where their bodies were at constant risk from violent men. Those things, in a society like Guatemala, are intimately intertwined. It is a sign of how blessed we are that, living in a country where “security” and “economy” and “politics” all come in separate boxes, we have a hard time seeing that.

In a piece in the NYT yesterday, Sonia Nazario, the author of “Enrique’s Journey: The Story of a Boy’s Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite With His Mother,” describes similar circumstances in Honduras, noting:

Children from Central America have been making that journey, often without their parents, for two decades. But lately something has changed, and the predictable flow has turned into an exodus. Three years ago, about 6,800 children were detained by United States immigration authorities and placed in federal custody; this year, as many as 90,000 children are expected to be picked up. Around a quarter come from Honduras — more than from anywhere else.

Nazario also notes America’s hypocrisy as our government expects “other countries to take in hundreds of thousands of refugees on humanitarian grounds.”

Countries neighboring Syria have absorbed nearly 3 million people. Jordan has accepted in two days what the United States has received in an entire month during the height of this immigration flow — more than 9,000 children in May.

Yet, here we are in America, trying to head children off before reaching the border and seeking to send them back where they came from. These children are refugees from the worst types of circumstances short of war. Nazario concludes:

It would be a disgrace if this wealthy nation turned its back on the 52,000 children who have arrived since October, many of them legitimate refugees.

This is not how a great nation treats children.

I recently read an excerpt of “Enrique’s Journey: The Story of a Boy’s Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite With His Mother,” in my Magazine Writing class last month. The story of Enrique’s Journey, has haunted me daily, as I read the stories of these children, these refugees, and the response from the anti-immigration faction here in the U.S.. We cannot turn our backs on these children.

The Hill reports that the “White House said Monday it was “likely” that immigrant children facing mortal danger in their home countries would be allowed to stay in the United States,” however MSNBC reports that a wave of deportations of families and children back to Central America has started.

Visit Sonia Nazario’s How To Help page on her website, to get involved.

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About Pamela Leavey

Pamela Leavey is the Editor in Chief, Owner/Publisher of The Democratic Daily as well as a freelance writer and photographer. Pamela holds a certificate in Contemporary Communications from UMass Lowell, a Journalism Certificate from UMass Amherst and a B.A. in Creative Writing and Digital Age Communications from UMass Amherst UWW.
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