Obama shouldn’t trade children’s lives in executive action on immigration

The rush to deport Central American children seeking protection here in the U.S. is not a moral or strategic decision. The LA Times has just reported that several deported children have been killed after being returned to Honduras. Other children who were also deported are trying to make their way back to safety in our country because the conditions back home are just too perilous to stay.

I have just returned from meeting immigrant children being processed by Border Patrol in McAllen, Texas, a border community where thousands of children have been processed after fleeing violence and exploitation in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Together with religious leaders from across the U.S. and Mexico, we were deeply inspired by the children’s courage, determination and resilience.

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Five-year old Regino from Guatemala is one of the children I met. With his young mother, Macaria, Regino spent 30 days traveling from his home to the U.S., some days traveling by bus and others walking the distance. Macaria said to me that she could not bear to see her little boy’s life destroyed by the violence in her country and thus had made the long and difficult trip to the U.S.

Regino came and leaned on me to see welcome cards that U.S. children had made for children like him. I was amazed that he still trusted a stranger like me even after all that others had done to inflict pain and suffering in his life. He pointed to the flower and butterfly stickers on the cards he was receiving, and with a wonderful smile told me how much he liked them.

Every single day, families and children are deciding that the journey and potential to be deported is still the safer choice than remaining in their homes. We are fearful for them. The sober reality that deporting them puts them back in harm’s way should jolt us out of our bureaucratic numbness and our thoughtless deporting of these kids by the thousands.

We have learned of “rocket dockets” from detention facilities in other places where hundreds of children are rushed through entirely inadequate immigration court proceedings that give the veneer of due process, but are effectively a rush to deportation. We have known of children as young as 18-months-old who appear before a judge without legal representation or an advocate. Some court proceedings are being done with judges via videoconference.

Where is the compassion for the most vulnerable among us? Do we neglect to respond with protection to a humanitarian crisis when it is next door because we fear what it may require of us as a nation? Is our government only willing to take action to protect children when the crisis doesn’t touch our borders? I can attest that we have nothing to fear from these children, but in fact, we have everything to gain from their faith, strength and courage.

As communities and churches across the country respond to the physical, spiritual and legal needs of these kids, I believe we are witnessing a new surge of “welcome” across our country – and yet we are also witnessing an Administration that is seeking “solutions” that do not reflect our nation’s values of welcome to the immigrant, care for children, and due process for all.

The modus operandi of the Obama administration has been that of deporting immigrants with the goal of somehow achieving policy solutions. We have seen Obama deport more than two million undocumented community members with the hope that Congress would pass comprehensive immigration reform. This effort has clearly failed, while at the same time it has recklessly torn apart families, communities and congregations. Now, it seems that Obama hopes that deporting children en masse will somehow further demonstrate that he is worthy of being trusted on the issue of immigration. Children’s lives should not be risked to make a point in a failed immigration reform strategy.

Many across the country continue to hope that Obama will use his executive power to provide much-needed relief to many of our undocumented community members. However, we are increasingly concerned that he might use this action to justify denying these children the protection they require and are assured by law.

Children must not be “traded” or used as pawns in political sparring over immigration between the White House and a dysfunctional Congress. We cannot support any future administrative or congressional action that comes at a cost to due process and legal protections for unaccompanied children. They are children.

I pray for our president that God may give him wise discernment. Today I am also praying that Obama will draw upon the faith and courage that has brought these children into our nation’s care – and that it would inspire him to bold and moral action on behalf of the millions that are counting on him.

Carcaño is a leading advocate for immigration reform in the U.S. and the first Hispanic woman to be elected to the episcopacy of The United Methodist Church, the second-largest Protestant denomination in the U.S. She is the resident bishop of the Los Angeles area. 

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