Michelle Gillett: Suffer the little children



The news is so horrifying these days, I keep forgetting about the children.

I am so concerned about the fighting in the Middle East, and the Ukraine crisis, and the inability of inspectors to get to the crash site of Malaysian Airline 17, and the obvious effects of global warming, it is hard to think about anything else.

But the children are still there, waiting for us to think about them. More than 57,000 of them have arrived here since October, unaccompanied, illegally, most from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, where gang violence is pervasive. More than half have a parent already living in the United States. Ironically, when we tightened border controls, we made it impossible for parents to return to their countries to get their children; hence, the children are traveling alone to get to their parents.


In early June, President Obama called the steady flow of children an "urgent humanitarian situation" and asked Congress for $3.7 billion to hire more immigration judges and process the children faster. A week ago, Republican leaders in the House of Rep resentatives proposed a $659 million bill that would send National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border and allow authorities to deport children more quickly, according to The New York Times. On Thurs day, the day before they recessed for five weeks, Con gress, influenced by conservative Republicans, failed to approve the bill. Their inability to reach consensus continues to leave the children in limbo.

Congress is also "sitting on an immigration bill that would have funded "a border surge" doubling the size of the border fence from 350 to 700 miles and more than doubling the presence of border agents -- 18,500 to 38,500. That's not saying the bill would have prevented this crisis, which has a lot to do with a (previously) uncontroversial 2008 law that offered humanitarian protections to young border-crossers from Central America.

"That was a for-the-children measure, too, aimed at sex traffickers and slavers, and there's no appetite for it anymore," David Weigel observed in his Slate article, "57,000 Little Problems." "We know the children can't stay -- but what do we do for them before they undergo whatever process we decide on to send them back? What is happening to them while Congress keeps playing political games?"

Also in Slate, Emily Bazelon offered her idea for a solution: "Every state should be raising its hand and offering to take some of them. This is not a border-state problem. It is not up to Texas and Arizona to carry this load just because they're the first places the children land. States in the Northeast and the Midwest can take some of these kids too. Yet some states are looking only for excuses to say no." There are 50 states in our country, certainly each could manage to provide shelter for 1,000 children.

Unlike states where leaders are repelled by the idea of caring for immigrant children, Massachusetts has a governor who is a humanitarian. Rick Perry in Texas called for 1,000 National Guard troops to guard against children coming over the border and thinks the federal government should send back the undocumented children rather than release them to an adult in the U.S., as is legal under current U. S. policy. "The power of boots on the ground cannot be overstated," Perry said. "The message needs to be not, ‘If you come into the United States, you'll be deported,' but, ‘You won't enter the United States.' "

Governor Deval Patrick is trying to find suitable locations to possibly host the immigrant children -- one on the Cape and one in Western Mass achusetts. If approved, the shelters would be supported by the federal government.


"My inclination is to remember what happened when a ship full of Jewish children tried to come to the United States in 1939 and the United States turned them away, and many of them went to their deaths in Nazi concentration camps," Patrick said when a reporter asked how he viewed the border crisis. "I think we are a bigger-hearted people than that as Americans, and certainly as residents of Massachusetts.

"There's a humanitarian reason to try to find a solution, try to find a way to help," he added. "These are children, coming from incredibly dangerous places. And we have to do something sensible and humane while we process them for whatever the next step is." He also explained how his faith influenced his decision. I believe that one day we will have to answer for our actions and our inactions. My faith teaches that ‘if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him but rather ‘love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.'"

If only Congress would do something sensible and humane.

Michelle Gillett is a regular Eagle contributor.


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