For many children, the summer will bring camps, trips to the park, visits with grandparents, picnics and maybe even a vacation to Disneyland. But imagine instead that your children were traveling alone on a dangerous journey to another country where they did not speak the language in a desperate search for long-lost parents or relatives whom they might not remember or who might not easily recognize them anymore.
These children are impoverished, alone and scared, without food, safety or protection. They do not speak English. Imagine the tremendous fear and suffering in store for them and then think of what we would want our political leaders to do, what we would want our community to do if they were our children.
Instead of coming together as a nation to do whatever we can to stop this humanitarian tragedy for the estimated 90,000 undocumented children expected to arrive in the United States from Central America this year, the children have either been ignored or become political fodder in the irrational and increasingly xenophobic immigration debate.
Congressional conservatives have blaming President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals for the dramatic increase in undocumented children arriving at the border. This does nothing to change the fact that between 70,000 and 90,000 undocumented minors are expected to arrive in the United States this year.
They will experience suffering beyond their comprehension if we do not come up with a multinational solution fast. Young children – some as young as 5 and 6 – will get injured or die on “the beast” (the train that children ride on top of for thousands of miles from Guatemala to Texas). Others will be raped, beaten, sold into human trafficking. Some may get forever lost as they try to make it to their unknown destination.
Others still will be caught by border patrol agents in either the United States or Mexico and spend weeks in detention facilities across the nation. There is talk of placing some at Joint Base Lewis-McChord here in Washington.
In many ways, these are the lucky ones. While conditions for them will still be frightening and uncertain, they will be offered some degree of protection and have some hope of being reunited with family members.
This emergency must be addressed. However, it will not be easy in this anti-immigrant climate in which we find ourselves. Public policies so often maintain and reinforce societal inequality and social stratification because it is too politically risky for politicians to do otherwise.
The dehumanizing of undocumented immigrants in the last few years has been tremendously successful – so much so that children are now viewed in a similar vein rather than viewed as innocent children in need of help.
This is not the first time in history that we have viewed children as something other than children in order to turn a blind eye to their suffering. Recall 5-year-old girls working in factories for 10 to 12 hours a day, often strapped to machines, or 7-year-old boys sent into the coal mines. People had to view them very differently to justify this treatment at the time.
Sadly, we seem to be collectively viewing these children as something completely different than our kids in our communities – or choosing to not view them at all in order to demand nothing be done about their suffering. But we must see these children for what they are – scared, vulnerable and deserving of the protection and love of their nations and ours.
We must come together as a civilized and compassionate world and find public policy solutions to this humanitarian tragedy as we plan a summer of fun and adventure for our own children.
Maria Chvez is an associate professor in Pacific Lutheran University’s political science department.