By Giulio Grecchi, Tucson, AZ, Western Region Voice of the Poor Representative
Children have been arriving to the US in increasing numbers from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, escaping from violence and personal threats by criminal gang, besides poverty.
The tens of thousands of children traveling alone, some as young as five years old, are apprehended at the Border and held in detention centers for an undetermined period, until relatives can be located. The Border Patrol generally provides for their physical needs, but their psychological and emotional conditions are often devastating and their future is uncertain.
To get to the US/Mexican border, they had to travel for at least 15 days through Mexico, where many were subject to abuse and blackmail. We do not know how many never made it through Mexico, possibly becoming victims of human trafficking. However, for these kids the risks encountered in their travel pale against the violence and threats they faced in their country.
Families with children have also been arriving in increasing numbers from the same countries, to escape violence and poverty.
They were lured into migrating by unscrupulous crime rackets, who, against payment, promised them safe passage to the US, assuring that they will be welcome when they arrive.
Children and families attempt to cross the US/Mexican border, mainly through Southern Texas. The Border Patrol of that sector apprehends most of them, but overwhelmed by the volume of new arrivals, often busses or flies those apprehended to Northern Texas, Arizona, and California.
There, families are processed and then released, often at night, to the local Greyhound bus station with little money, food or other resources. The intervention of local charities is their only hope. Eventually, they will attempt to reach their relatives in locations across the US, where they must report to local Immigration authorities for further proceedings and possible deportation.
In many ways, these are not migrants, but refugees. They are similar to the Syrian and Iraqis who have fled to Jordan or to Turkey. As Vincentians deeply committed to caring for the poor and the vulnerable of our society wherever we find them, are we willing to understand their fear, their precarious situation and welcome them? Sectors of the US-Mexico-border (From U.S. Customs and Border Protection)
The current crisis comes on top of the ongoing migration issues, caused by lack of economic opportunities in Central American countries (the so-called “push factor”) and by the desperate need of cheap labor by many US industries (the so-called “pull factor”).
As we all know, because there are no simple, reasonable and practical legal ways to migrate to this country, migrants from Mexico, Central America and elsewhere, both children and adults, have been coming into our country undocumented. Our immigration system, not updated for decades, is at the source of the 10-12 million undocumented migrants currently in the US and the root cause of thousands of deaths in the desert, millions of deportations, separated families and many social ills.
Something has to change
Everyone says that something has to change, ordinary citizens say it, members of the Border Patrol say it and so are the Border Communities, the Governors of Border States, and the US Government.
What has to change?
We have little control over the violence or lack of economic opportunities that made migrants leave their country.
What we can control is what is happening in this country. We need to address what is at the heart of the problem:
· How do we meet the tremendous need for labor in agriculture, in chicken farms, in construction, in home services, etc.?
· How do we limit the huge inflow of illegal narcotics, a flourishing hidden market?
· How do we heal those who have fallen victim to narcotic addiction and prevent others from becoming so?
These are the questions that we should be asking.
What can we do?
1. Continue to advocate for immigration reform, the only thing that can ensure the long- term stability and well-being of many migrant families. The Senate passed Comprehensive Immigration Reform last year. The House has yet to do so. It is essential that the House of Representatives forthrightly address these complex and divisive issue. There is good support in the House for Immigration Reform, but unfortunately, the House leadership has not allowed legislation to come to the floor. It is imperative that we continue to put pressure on our Representatives by writing to them or, better yet, by bringing groups of Vincentians to meet with their staff at their local district offices. This is the link to the recent Action Alert issued by Sheila Gilbert, our National President:
2. We can also advocate that the US Government allocate sufficient resources for the compassionate handling of children and families, detained at the Border or with temporary stay, pending further proceeding and deportation.
3. We can provide immediate help to immigrant families living in our communities (often split families or families living in hiding) or twin with Councils in the border areas that are supporting the new immigrants upon their arrival.
4. Pray that our country treats these children and families with compassion and gives them protection. They are our brothers and sisters, who are the crucified members of the Body of Christ.