Over the last several months, a new phenomenon has captured the attention of media, members of Congress and the American public—the unprecedented surge of Central American refugees at the southern border.
Although the child-migrant flow began in 2011, it has hit a new crisis point this year, making it another contentious issue for Washington. This new wave of immigrant children from the Northern Triangle region of Central America—El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala—has been largely the result of forced displacement due to organized crime, which undeniably permeates other areas of life that infuse the recent migration.
The humanitarian crisis we are now facing has been perpetuated by multiple drivers including growing violence, crime, and extreme poverty, which can be linked back to U.S. foreign policies. This reality is one that seldom is acknowledged or given attention but should not be ignored as we try find solutions for the root causes of this exodus.
These children are leaving the familiarity and limited comfort they’ve known and desperately seeking a safe haven in order to survive. They are voluntarily turning themselves in to agents at the border, not jumping over fences or being funneled through tunnels as is often the misperception.
“Why are they coming?” is the question we should be asking—not, "How can we keep them out?"
The need is urgent, overwhelming, and large in scope but ultimately requires that these vulnerable children be treated with love and compassion. It’s crucial that each child be offered the adequate resources by trained professionals that will help preserve their dignity and protect them from further harm. Each migrant child should be screened and processed in a manner that is just and humane. Legislation that serves to uphold protections for children, like the much-contested William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), should not be weakened. Negative and insensitive rhetoric from the public and our elected leaders should not be part of the narrative. It only hinders progress. Those that have enforcement-focused solutions need to stop trying to score political points to bolster their profiles and begin examining the detrimental costs of their actions for communities and the children.
The overwhelming concern and support among the faith community for these Central American refugees has been a huge blessing for these children both at the national and local level. Most recently, the Evangelical Immigration Table released a letter to Congress urging them to protect the vulnerable children and reminding them that Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them" (Matt.19:14).
If you are wondering how you can help with this urgent need, below are some options on where you can donate your money or time:
Ivone Guillen is immigration associate for Sojourners.