Turn on the news and we see stories from the Middle East and Africa of serious humanitarian crises that have no end in sight. What we do not see however is that here, in the United States, we have our own humanitarian crisis with 52,000 unaccompanied children, and an unknown number of families and adults, at our borders seeking refuge from the murder, rape and violence of their native countries. Right now, they are the most vulnerable among us. This problem has led to two polar opposite reactions from those powerbrokers in DC and the general public. Some say, “Let’s do what we can to help these people” but one declared on a TV interview, “Send them back. I don’t care if they are tortured or killed. It is not our problem. We cannot afford to care for them. We need to take care of our own children.”
On the other side of the world, over half a million Syrian refugees are currently in Jordan. According to Al-Jazeera, these refugees continue to struggle to maintain a decent lifestyle and the Jordanian resources are significantly strained trying help them, but the Jordanian government is not considering sending those seeking refuge back to the war zone they fled from. If there were attempts made to send them back to Syria, there would be an international uproar. We would all be appalled at the thought, but why is the US unwilling to do what Jordan is doing to help those in need? We are certainly better equipped to do so than most other nations. When we provide assistance in war zones, humanitarian organizations and others go there to help on the ground. There seems to be an attitude of “we will help you somewhere else. But not in our back yards.”
Some of the most revered people of the world have stated that how society treats the most vulnerable among them is a measure of the character of that society. Nelson Mandela once said, “The true character of a society is revealed in how it treats its children.” Many great people have echoed these words; Mahatma Gandhi said, “The measure of a civilization is how it treats its weakest members.” John F. Kennedy stated, “The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty, and all forms of human life,” and perhaps most relevant of all, Emma Lazarus wrote, and it is written on the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
We are currently faced with two diametrically opposing views surrounding the illegal immigration: “Take care of them and strain our resources” or “send them back to be brutalized or killed.” Part of our challenge is that we already have ample examples of abuse throughout our own country. Approximately 3 million children are abused and neglected every year in the United States. The recent and highly publicized case of a father allegedly leaving his 22-month old toddler to die in the car while he sexted six women at work highlights one of these cases.
Our ability to care for those “most vulnerable among us,” in the US is sometimes great but has much room for improvement. More resources are required to provide good care and to monitor those vulnerable to abuse and neglect. Not taking care of these vulnerable children has severe long term consequences too. Some of those enraged, tortured children grow up and release their rage on society by injuring or killing themselves and others. As a nation, we need to solve the problem of children in our land that grow up angry and confused without necessary services to gain life skills due to severe and prolonged abuse and neglect.
Even the institutions we create to protect them are sometimes neglectful and abusive. The County Departments of Social Services are often overwhelmed with the existing 3 million cases of abuse and neglect. Children in US foster care are injured and killed every day. If the 52,000 undocumented, unaccompanied minors stay in the US, they will enter the already overwhelmed health and human services system and risk being abused, neglected, or even killed. If they return home, they risk being abused and neglected or even killed. They are truly the most vulnerable among us. The risk of helping the children at our borders is further overwhelming our already broken immigration and health and human services systems. Yet, what is the alternative?
One of the main problems that these children are running from is violence and lawlessness by gangs such as MS13. Those that are in these gangs come from environments of abuse, neglect and violence, which further perpetuates the cycle of violence. Those children who are sent back to Central America and survive the trip will join the gangs so they can continue to survive. Sending these children back solves the US’s immediate problem, but perpetuates the gang problem and the killing of children in Central America. The Central American gangs will continue to engage in human trafficking, drug trafficking, organized crime and eventually terrorism, thus becoming a larger problem for the US. Therefore a short-term fix, sending refugees back, becomes a much larger, long-term problem, future violence overrunning Central America’s borders. It is a case of “Pick your poison.”
If there is a humanitarian crisis anywhere in the world, the US is quick to send supplies and offer assistance. But when the crisis is in our back yard, we turn children away and send them back into the line of fire and into the hands of gangs. We set up refugee camps for millions all over the world when there is a humanitarian crisis, but we cannot care for 52,000 children in our own back yard? Why are the churches and humanitarian organizations that send aid all over the world in a humanitarian crisis not sending aid to the people at own our borders? They built homes in Haiti, but not in the US because we are OK with sending child refugees home to be killed? This is indeed an ethical dilemma.
Solving this problem will not be easy. However, short-term fixes will cost much more in the future than well thought out long-term solutions put into place now. We need to start treating people in a humanitarian way no matter where they are in the world. The immigration system, which both Republicans and Democrats agree is broken, needs to be significantly and meaningfully reformed without delay by the powerbrokers in DC. More judges are needed to expedite cases and give each person a fair hearing. Allowing children to continue to be abused, neglected or killed anywhere in the world will generate violence in the future and the problem is now at our doorstep. We must be humane, but fair, and we must act now, America.
Written by: Dr. Kathryn Seifert
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