Powerful videos, images, and articles of undocumented and refugee children now in America are being generated as quickly as more children stream across our borders on a quest for family, safety, and a home.
As Americans and, at our very core as compassionate humans, we cannot be blind to the pain and need of a child – no matter where these children are from, and even as we grapple with the economic, legal and political issues that surround this controversy.
What will always stay in my mind, though, are the poignant images of angry adults shaking their fists and screaming at busloads of children demanding they leave their neighborhoods. Political commercials and street art depicting the same inflammatory anti-immigration imagery centered on these children. These are parents scorning children who have suffered so much. They are teachers, policemen, and politicians who serve and protect our civil society. These are the people whom we have entrusted with our children’s care.
And, sadly, we are just beginning to learn the depth of the violence that drives these children to our borders – drug wars, food insecurity, and violence. The majority of the children are coming from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, which has the highest murder rate in the world.
Last week, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said that many of the children fled “join or die” gang recruitment efforts, or threats by gangs to hurt or kill them or their families. As a result, almost 60 percent could qualify for refugee status or political asylum.
Americans must understand the difference between illegal and refugee status, while we keep in mind these are children, not drug traffickers or criminals. These are children, not burdens. These are children who may, though unaccompanied, have a legal right to asylum, or who have families who are already here.
Last week, ahead of the Congressional recess, the House of Representatives passed a divergent bill to President Obama’s plan on how to best deal with the influx of unaccompanied children. And still, this plan is significantly different than the Senate bill. This legislative head-to-head will continue on. Members of Congress will return to their families and their districts this month, and in stump speeches across their districts they will continue to build vitriol in the hearts and minds of their constituents against these unaccompanied children.
And at the same time, hundreds of thousands of children will linger in temporary housing, waiting to find out where their home is.
We must, with the urgency that childhood demands, negotiate a position that can provide the resources to humanely and safely process these children, give them shelter and take care of their immediate and long-term needs. Every state must step forward – the concentration of children is at the border of a few states, but the economic challenges of care can and must be shared.
We can continue to make this a discussion driven by political and election implications. But that will not save the life of a child. We can demand immediate return of every child and family that we think “does not belong” here, but the search for safety as part of the American dream will not abate. We can think of this issue as one of economic imperatives, but as a nation, we have always risen up to assist children in danger and found the resources necessary.
These children are not someone else’s responsibility. They are here now, and they are ours.
Soronen is the president and CEO of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. Since 2001, Soronen has worked to find adoptive families for each of the more than 134,000 waiting children in the United States and Canada’s foster care systems. Soronen has worked for the past 30 years on behalf of abused, neglected and vulnerable children.