One journalist wrote a headline: “Minors arriving at our borders to escape poverty and violence need love, reassurance and compassionate treatment.” Not the kind of headline one sees these days. She gives the reason for this headline: “During several trips to Guatemala over the last few years, I saw firsthand the reality of children living in poverty and fear of violence. The situation has only worsened this year, forcing more than 50,000 children to flee their Central American countries. The United Nations refugee agency on July 8 called on regional authorities to treat the migrants, who are fleeing extortion and gang violence, as refugees.”
This situation has become a very clarifying one… it speaks loudly about ourselves as a people. What have we become? What have we done? For one thing, the U.S. trade agreements we have in our name have been a major player in the situations that have driven the frantic parents of most of these children to set their children on a dangerous journey into an unknown future.
For any who are parents, this is the key to understanding why these children are arriving at our back door. Families cannot feed themselves nor their children. Doesn’t this bring you back to the times of our dust bowl? In case you have never had that page in your history books, History.com describes it as follows: “The Dust Bowl was the name given to the Great Plains region devastated by drought in 1930s depression-ridden America. The 150,000-square-mile area, encompassing the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles and neighboring sections of Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico, has little rainfall, light soil, and high winds, a potentially destructive combination. When drought struck from 1934 to 1937, the soil lacked the stronger root system of grass as an anchor, so the winds easily picked up the loose topsoil and swirled it into dense dust clouds, called ‘black blizzards.’ Recurrent dust storms wreaked havoc, choking cattle and pasture lands and driving 60 percent of the population from the region.”
How I remember it was the degrading name of “Oakies,” given to the sixty percent, as if they were responsible for the Dust Bowl itself. They were derided and not welcomed in the places to which they were forced to flee….by the “good” people in the West.
Have we once again lost our humanity? Have our lives become so centered totally on ourselves? U.S. “selfies,” one and all?
No, we are better than this. Remember the Vietnamese “boat people” who came to our shores, either directly off boats or from refugee staging areas in Asia? This was a time when good people responded quickly as fellow human beings who initiated and organized settlement through the Churches in our country. It was the ordinary people who opened their hearts and homes to welcome families, care for them during their transition into life in America, and learned from and about one another. Most of these families have become an important part of America….and we Maryknoll Sisters have been lucky enough to have two of them as important members of our Community.
Coming back to the situation at the border which is heartbreaking: groups on the ground tell us these tens of thousands of young children, fleeing horrific violence in their native countries, are being crammed into overcrowded Border Patrol jails and held for long periods with no access to family or to legal representation.
At a moment like this, it is helpful to remember that Jesus himself fled violence in his home country as a child — without documentation. He became a refugee in Egypt. Pope Francis has called the situation a “humanitarian emergency” requiring that these children be “welcomed and protected.”
In the name of our shared humanity, we can do more than we are to bring this about. We can clarify our thinking about these children. We can start with seeing ourselves as part of the human family. We can act to promote life for these youngsters; we can promote a refugee status for these children. We, who have been so very gifted by our Creator who has created this earth for all, have more than enough to share.
All of us come from an immigrant background. ALL of us! As humans and Christians we cannot sit idly by while these innocents are sent back to be killed or forcefully recruited into violent street gangs. We agree that it is time to show our leaders just how many of us are outraged at this profound lack of basic human decency. We can do this and more.
Remembering what we did for the Vietnamese refugees, we can think and act creatively and humanely….today.
— Sister Jean Fallon, MM