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The Kids are Not Okay – Reflections from the Southern Border

The kids are not okay is the quickest way to say it. Despite changes, when it comes to the impact of US policy on immigrant children we must realize there are many who are being harmed  — but out of our view. Wherever you land on immigration policy, I hope you’ll take a look and consider what is truly loving towards these kids, these human beings, and what we might need to do about it. This is my second post in a series about my trip to the U.S. border between El Paso, TX and Juarez, Mexico.

It’s better than it was, right? 

A few months ago, the headlines were filled with images and stories of children separated from their parents. Now that we are keeping families together it would be easy to conclude that now we are caring for the kids. Certainly, keeping children with their parents is better than the inexcusable and devastating truth that our country changed its policies and procedures and as a result children became orphans and were subject to traumatizing, dehumanizing conditions.

But anyone who cares about vulnerable children worldwide needs to continue to pay attention to the children at risk in the current humanitarian crisis at our southern border.

Changing Immigrant Populations and Policy

Recent years have seen a dramatic influx of children—unaccompanied minors as well as children traveling with their parents or other relatives—trying to enter the United States. In 2008, 90% of the people trying to enter the US were adult males. In 2018, over 40% were children. The Obama administration responded to this problem by allowing the children to enter the country, request asylum, and then take refuge with friends or relatives already living in the United States. This process had problems—due to insufficient funding and personnel, the immigration court system was so backed up that many people waited years for a hearing, while others intentionally evaded court hearings. Millions of people grow up “in the shadows” in America, arriving here as children and never receiving official permission to live here. The kids are not okay.

The Trump administration changed the procedure to a “zero tolerance” policy. No one was allowed to enter the country without a visa. No one requesting asylum could go stay with a relative and wait for a hearing. At the same time, federal law requires that minors be released from immigration detention within 72 hours. Therefore, children were separated from their parents and, in some cases, never reunited.

 The outcry among Americans about this inhumane treatment prompted policy change. The Administration calls it the “remain in Mexico” policy. Currently, children and their family members seeking asylum are being sent back to Mexico indefinitely. They are not able to connect with their networks of support here in the United States. They are not guaranteed legal representation as they attempt to navigate the American immigration court system.

Out of Detention, But Only Out of Sight

When I came back from my trip to El Paso, a number of friends commented on the relief they felt when I reported that there weren’t any children in detention centers any more. They were glad to see my photo of a playground, albeit a playground amidst spare tires and dirt. They were glad to hear my reports of people living in family units. And yet I couldn’t shake my sense that rather than addressing the needs of these kids we had simply absolved ourselves of responsibility for it, literally kicking them out of our country and out of the national spotlight.

These children are far from home. They are in need. They are in limbo. But we Americans do not see them anymore.

We could respond to the human need of our geographic neighbors (and our country’s role in the instability in the nations they are feeling). Instead, we have removed the visual reminder of their need. Thousands of children are now enduring a long, uncertain, and potentially dangerous wait in Mexico.

The kids are not okay. 

If you are interested, please check out my previous post on my trip to the US border here and here. And I have video and photos from the trip on my saved Instagram stories (the circles at the top of my page).

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