Child refugee crisis: battle for America’s soul

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Since 2011, the number of "unaccompanied" children, mostly from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, crossing the U.S.-Mexico border has been skyrocketing. Already since October 2013, 52,000 have arrived, and the total may reach 90,000 by December 2014.

Republicans and the right claim that this surge in child migration is caused by the Obama administration's "lax" immigration enforcement policies, like the DACA program - Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals - started in 2012. This program suspends deportation and grants work permits to undocumented people who arrived with their families when they were children, who came before 2007 and who have not reached 31 years of age. Otherwise, the Obama administration's immigration policies have not been "lax" at all, with record numbers of deportations. Furthermore, children are also seeking refuge in other countries in the region including Nicaragua and Belize, which are very poor.

The right is using the child migrant crisis to re-ignite anti-immigrant fervor, and to embarrass the Obama administration. It has fomented "nimby" ("not in my back yard") demonstrations in Murrieta, California, and other places, creating a shameful spectacle of organized bands of right wing hate mongers attacking children. The administration has responded in part by calling for authority and funding to speed up the processing and deportation of these child migrants. This would be intolerable, and frankly, un-American.

While the situation is complicated and has many moving parts, throwing these children back into life-threatening circumstances is outrageous and wrong. What happened to the "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free" ethos? Has the richest country in the world become so selfish, so arrogant, so ugly as to throw away children?

We cannot allow this to happen - or to let history repeat itself. We recall that in 1939 the Roosevelt administration caved to anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant sentiment and turned back a ship of Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany. These children are refugees too.

Recent studies by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and by independent researcher Elizabeth Kennedy illustrate the real roots of the crisis.

Both studies interviewed migrant children from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala; the UNHCR study sample also included Mexican children. Only a few of the children mentioned the belief that they would get a legal permit to stay in the United States as a reason for migrating. Many more mentioned fears of violence in their home countries, from gangs, drug cartels, and in some cases corrupt and brutal police and military. Girls in particular expressed fear of sexual violence. Grinding poverty was also a major motivating factor. A large number stated that they were trying to reach parents living in the United States. Mexican teenagers also stressed recruitment pressure from human smuggling gangs.

This is a refugee and humanitarian crisis, not primarily a law enforcement crisis. As such, it falls within the purview of both U.S. and international law, which has to be adhered to. But most important is the principle that children must be protected and that this must be the primary consideration guiding U.S. policy. These considerations have caused immigrants' and civil rights organizations and some members of Congress, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, to balk at the idea of responding to the crisis by speeding up mass deportations of children, or changing 2008 legislation that requires special treatment for child migrants.

In our opinion, the principles the government should follow in dealing with the child refugee situation are the following:

*The children should be immediately protected under law and provided with adequate housing, food, health care and psychological counselling by qualified pediatric psychologists or social workers. A country that spends billions on wars can provide these resources if it tries.

*Hearings to determine eligibility for relief should take place over a sufficient time and should be carried out by people with child trauma expertise, and the proper language skills (including not only Spanish but indigenous language capacity; 48 percent of the Guatemalan child refugees come from indigenous communities according to UNHCR). Each child should have a guardian appointed. The UNHCR and the Kennedy study both conclude that a majority of the children they interviewed would probably have a cause for relief under international law.

*Children should not be returned to their countries of origin unless it can be shown that they are not being sent into a situation of mortal danger.

*Where parents or guardians of the children are living in the U.S., the children should be transferred to their custody, even if it means protecting the parents from immigration enforcement actions.

*The Obama administration should not be deterred by this development from implementing the idea of providing administrative relief for undocumented immigrants, since House Republicans have blocked legislative reform. Polls have continued to show that the American people reject harsh treatment of immigrants.

*The nations of Central America should be helped, not by sending them more guns or bullets or "training" for their corrupt police and military, but by implementing trade and aid policies that help their poor workers and farmers and not Monsanto and other agribusiness transnationals.

How we treat these children is a battle for the very soul of our country. We know which side we are on and hope you do too.

Photo: Child detainees play as others sleep in a holding cell. Eric Gay/AP

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  • (hand raised) "I KNOW! I KNOW!"
    Let's pay for their care/attorneys with all the money we'd save by ending those idiotic and punitive drug-tests-for-welfare laws. Millions and millions available there...

    Posted by Barbara Durham, 07/19/2014 3:04pm (4 months ago)

  • Re: Immigration Crisis

    Recalling leading up to Fast Track vote on NAFTA, Luddie Martin announcing "I could support NAFTA if it included an International Minimum Wage" 
    as the CBTU delegation walked into newly elected Congressman Earl Hilliard's office.  
    Luddie had won the annual Addie L. Wyatt award of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU)that year and led the delegation of the Alabama chapter, the support of which had swung most of us* to support Hilliard over Hank Sanders, whose "unbossed unbought" campaign we preferred.  
    Luddie had retired from her job in a Chicago window shade factory where she had been a Teamster Shop Steward and come back to Birmingham.  She had recruited to help lead CBTU in the South, but she also was breathing life back into the A. Phillip Randolph Chapter which met at the USWA (United Steel Workers of America) hall as did our local CLC (Central Labor Coincil). USWA was still the most powerful union in Alabama,  tho its membership had already been severely cut by layoffs.   **

    Ralph Paige, President of Alanama CBTU pointed out that despite the most violent and racist tactics against union organizing in the South,  white as well as black workers had gladly welcomed the  South being covered by the national minimum wage and the National Labor Relations Act.  

    Yes, NAFTA was pursued in the interest of Capital,  just as the Civil War had initially been, but it was not enough to "Just say 'no'".   It needed to be used to educate Americans to extract protection  of US labor by expanding and raising labor rights and living  standards of  labor from yet further South, just as many, never all, Northern workers saw fighting for the Union and abolishing slave labor.  
      Today's children from South of the border dying to get across it, may be like Southern slaves who were dying to fight  for freedom.  Most US union soldiers did not welcome them.

    My fear is few understand the sine qua non (the that without which it cannot be) of freedom is free time.
    It is as important for Labor where productivity is highly developed to demand and win reductions in the amount of labor time required to purchase our necessities and aguaranteed as it is for Labor where its  productivity is "underdeveloped" to win increases in wages to produce and purchase better goods and services.
    I pray for leadership to reduce hours at home and raise wages abroad, before all  our children are begging to labor for longer and longer at stupider and stupider jobs for less and less pay to buy stupider and stupider stuff.

    *me, I know.  My absolutely purer principled comrade Maralyn Mosely
    persisted with the strategy we'd been following for several years to turn out enough white labor votes to tip the election of the first Black Congressman from Alabama to the "unbossed unbought" Hank Sanders

    **cf seldom noted '30s &'40s history of USWA and UMA resorting  in  Birmingham to  racist and red baiting to raid white members of Mine Mill; and '60s History of NAACP having to sue USWA as well as USSteel to abolish posting separate lists for internal job transfers 

    Posted by PeggyDobbins, 07/11/2014 7:11pm (5 months ago)

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