In Tucson, we live on the front lines of the battle for immigration reform. As the Congress rushes to further militarize the US-Mexico border with more Border Patrol officers and expensive high-tech gadgets, we imprison thousands of innocent people in for-profit jails, we turn a blind eye to the exploitation of undocumented workers, we regularly break-up families, and we ignore the flood of money, guns, and drugs that flow freely.
In the past few days, immigration got real hard to ignore here in Arizona. In recent months, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of migrants crossing the US-Mexico border into Texas; among these migrants are 48,000 children, many of them unaccompanied. Last week, one group of 250 women and children was apprehended by the Border Patrol in Texas. The flow of migrant children has ballooned since 2011 when approximately 4000 unaccompanied children were apprehended crossing the border. According to the New York Times, federal officials predict that the number of children crossing the border alone will reach 90,000 during this fiscal year, due to violence and poverty in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.
Since Memorial Day weekend, about 1,000 women and children have been flown to Tucson from Texas, then driven by bus to Phoenix and dumped unceremoniously, weary and hungry, left to find their families scattered around the nation. [Emphasis added.]
Mattresses, vaccines, and hygiene items have been ordered, an old immigration processing center in Nogales has been re-opened, and much to Governor Jan Brewer’s chagrin, more children are coming our way.
So, while the US has been effectively ignoring the multi-faceted immigration issue, it just got a whole lot more complicated. People shrug their shoulders in frustration at the deportations, the imprisonment, the violence, the abuse, the human trafficking, the racial profiling, the exploitation… the deaths in the desert… but will we be able to ignore 90,000 child refugees?
From the New York Times…
By law, unaccompanied children caught crossing illegally from countries other than Mexico are treated differently from other migrants. After being apprehended by the Border Patrol, they must be turned over within 72 hours to a refugee resettlement office that is part of the Health Department. Health officials must try to find relatives or other adults in the United States who can care for them while their immigration cases move through the courts, a search that can take several weeks or more…
Mr. Johnson [Homeland Security head] said the young migrants became a more “vivid” issue for him after he persuaded his wife to spend Mother’s Day with him at the station in McAllen. He said he asked a 12-year-old girl where her mother was. She responded tearfully that she did not have a mother, and was hoping to find her father, who was living somewhere in the United States, Mr. Johnson said.
Mr. Johnson said he had spoken on Monday with the ambassadors from Mexico and the three Central American countries to seek their cooperation, and had begun a publicity campaign to dissuade youths from embarking for the United States. [They are fight this with a publicity campaign?]
Officials said many youths are fleeing gang violence at home, while some are seeking to reunite with parents in the United States. A majority of unaccompanied minors are not eligible to remain legally in the United States and are eventually returned home.
Thousands of child refugees risked their lives to travel north from Central America to escape violence and poverty and find relatives in the US, and we’re going to just “process” them and send them back to the violent world they’re trying to escape? For a nation that calls itself “Christian”, how can we let this happen? What would Jesus do?
To say that immigration reform has been ignored too long is a massive understatement. In the US Congress, change comes at a glacial pace (a pre-global-warming glacial pace). Systems must be completely broken before talking about change is even possible. Crucial problems loom as Congressional representatives kiss babies, shake hands, make promises, and collect cash on the campaign trail.
Meanwhile, on Main Street, we are left to deal with the consequences of their inaction and their failed policies. Housing, feeding, caring for, and “processing” the estimated 1000 unaccompanied children who arrived in Arizona over the weekend is a huge task. Taking care of 90,000 unaccompanied children, who are scared and alone in a foreign country where they don’t even speak the language, is a moral, societal, and public health crisis.