Immigration: “We Are Better Than This”
A warehouse full of children. An air conditioned warehouse full of children with concrete floors, no beds, only two scratchy wool blankets. An air conditioned warehouse full of cold, anxious children with too few adults to care for them – children sleeping on concrete floors who have not been given clean clothing or a chance to shower or even a bar of soap, a towel, and a toothbrush. Does any of this sound like America to you? But it is happening in America. It is happening right now in America.
We have a President who has told us that the people coming across our southern border are animals. Do you believe that he is telling the truth? Are these people dangerous? Are they less than human? Why are they coming? The President thinks it is a planned challenge to his immigration policies, that Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador (the Northern Triangle countries) are “pranking” him somehow. Reporters who have visited these three nations tell a different story however. They tell a story about a once fertile triangle of farm land shared by these three nations. They tell us that the land is no longer fertile because the rainfall, once predictable, is now erratic. There are long periods of dry weather in recent years followed by too much rain all at once. This disruption in the usual water cycle could be temporary, but it could be due to climate change. The area is also threatened by gangs of men who snatch girls for trafficking purposes or for their own use and who snatch young men to increase memberships. These gangs are at war with each other and innocent citizens are killed in the ensuing violence.
People usually love the country they were born in. They don’t want to leave it. If large numbers of people are migrating from one country to another country far away there is always a reason for it. People migrate when their home nation cannot offer enough food, or enough safety, or any opportunities for a better life. People of means may travel out of a sense of adventure, or to broaden their experiences, to enjoy other cultures and the beauty of foreign places. However, unless they stumble into a place they know is unstable and hostile, tourists do not end up sleeping in warehouses with concrete floors. And neither should people who are seeking asylum from a nation that no longer offers a viable life to its people.
We cannot solve problems that arise from climate change, especially with an administration in charge of America that does not believe in climate change. But offering aid to a nation in need is something that we do know how to do. We cannot get rid of local gangs. We are not even doing well with keeping our own gangs under control. But we do know that when people are offered opportunities to learn a trade or get a college degree and find employment violence tends to decrease and the influence of gangs declines. Aid can also be perceived to be nation building, can be seen as imperialistic interference done for personal gain rather than altruism, so the way help is offered matters. While giving aid it is not polite to see what resources you can steal from a nation that is suffering.
If one way to tackle the flow of migrants is to improve the conditions in the home nations, another way is to streamline our procedures for handling migration when it happens. Denying migrants access to the laws that govern immigration does not seem to stop people from immigrating. Separating children from parents does not seem to discourage the flow of immigration. Denying children showers and soap and toothbrushes may make them miserable but it doesn’t make them disappear (unless they die). Is that the plan? To let squalor do its work. Is that a plan Americans can live with?
“We are better than this.” Whenever I listen to panels of experts talk on my news channel (MSNBC) someone always says this. We can do better than taking children who came here with a parent or who have a contact who is a relative already in America, than housing them in a cold soulless shelter, leaving them in wet diapers and dirty clothing, allowing them to live with lice, and sending them to bed hungry with only a scratchy blanket for company. We are America. We are organized. We are humane. We are a can-do nation. If the system is overwhelmed then hire more people. Warehouse supplies, not people. Better yet, don’t detain children at all. Set to work immediately getting them to their destination if they have one, or finding them a family to act as a temporary sponsor.
What the President would like to do is immediately deport them, but the law says they have a right to a hearing. He says that if they are released with a hearing date they will not return. Statistics say that the return rate is really good for adults. How do you give a hearing to a toddler who may be nonverbal? Applying the same practices for children that we have for adults makes no sense. HHS (Housing and Human Services) is full of experts in the care of displaced children. They should be called upon to suggest ways to handle minors separated from parents or guardians. Many experts have been making valid suggestions without getting much attention.
The chaos we are seeing in the immigration system is due to this administration’s attempts to solve the problem by circumventing immigration laws, in other words by using approaches that are lawless, approaches for which there are no precedents and no organizational plans. Orders are given and they must be accomplished although no resources are offered to accomplish what the administration wants. If everyone is to be sent back home why aren’t they loaded immediately onto planes? Because no logistics have been designed to make this possible. So migrants seeking asylum are caught between a rock and a government-engineered hard place and they cannot solve their own dilemma. But we can. “We are better than this.”