In 2014, after advocating for immigration issues impacting my community for over a decade, I had the opportunity to head to McAllen, Texas, and see the process first-hand. Tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors had come to our border to seek help. While I was at a local children’s center, I saw over 100 boys somewhere between the ages of 8 to 17 and thought, “This is what we are afraid of? They are children.”
And that was five years ago. Today we have thousands of migrant children coming to our borders, along with their families, seeking help. In 2019 alone, 70,000 children who came to the U.S. in search of protection have been held in detention facilities by a nation that proclaims to be built on liberty and justice for all.
Seventy years ago, after World War II and the Holocaust, the global community was in mourning. Most of Europe and across Asia, communities were ravaged, millions displaced. It was a time to collectively rise from the ashes and come together, to rebuild, to reflect, and to ensure that never again in history would people forced to flee political and religious persecution be denied the most basic dignities — least of all vulnerable children. On Nov. 20, 1954, the United Nations lifted up children as the most vulnerable population during migration, and the global community established Universal Children’s Day (now World Children’s Day) to help highlight that children are in need of special care and concern.
The perspective that history gives us in hindsight is what the present affords us to make right. With nearly 71 million people displaced around the world, we are shirking our societal responsibility as global ethnocentrism and nationalism are on the rise. The United States, in particular, is abandoning our founding principles and those that have sustained our position as the aspirational bastion of freedom and opportunity. Our failure is reprehensible: Even as we fail to protect children, we are daily compounding their trauma and harm through policies detention and separation. History will remember the cruelty of this administration, the atrophy of moral leadership, and the apathy of the American people.
We need to define our future. It’s time to come together, to be a remnant that turns the tide. We need to be a people of bold moves. We cannot let this be our story.
As a faith leader, I am in grief and disbelief at what I see today, but I have not let it keep me on the sidelines. For years I have fought for just immigration practices, beckoning unengaged faith leaders to make a difference. I have led trips to the border to witness first-hand the unaccompanied minors that have come in record numbers.
How can we tell the story of a people who fought for common human decency, who stood up against oppression and cruelty? People of conscience everywhere need to rise up and stand against such treatment. The chorus of liberty can be sung again, but not if we don’t boldly force the hand that is writing our story. We cannot look away. I cannot head to the border to see another month of inaction, to hold another migrant child or baby and believe the story is going to be written this way. Everyone needs to human up right now.
The time has come on this 65th commemoration of Universal Children’s Day to ensure that our history is not written without redemption.