My Turn: Consider the source when trying to solve overload of child immigrants
FILE - This June 18, 2014, file photo, detainees sleep in a holding cell at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection, processing facility in Brownsville,Texas. Immigration courts backlogged by years of staffing shortages and tougher enforcement face an even more daunting challenge since tens of thousands of Central Americans began arriving on the U.S. border fleeing violence back home. For years, children from Central America traveling alone and immigrants who prove they have a credible fear of returning home have been entitled to a hearing before an immigration judge. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, Pool, File)
In this Saturday, July 19, 2014 photo, deportee Elsa Ramirez, 27, walks with her children Sandra, 8, Cesar Ramos, 5, and her brother Elvin Ramirez to a nearby church in Tocoa, Honduras. The migration flood to the US-Mexico border began earlier this year after word circulated that children, and women with children, would be released in the U.S pending immigration hearings, which could be delayed for years due to a backlog. But in a sudden turnaround after the numbers topped 57,000, the Obama administration began sending migrants home--and with them a stern message that there are no free passes into the United States. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)
In this July 12, 2014, photo, Central American migrants ride a freight train during their journey toward the U.S.-Mexico border in Ixtepec, Mexico. Many of the children and teenagers who travelled to the United States recently said they did so after hearing they would be allowed to stay. The U.S. generally releases unaccompanied children to parents or relatives while their cases take years to wend through overwhelmed immigration courts. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)
In this July 12, 2014, photo, Central American migrants ride a freight train during their journey toward the U.S.-Mexico border in Ixtepec, Mexico. The number of family units and unaccompanied children arrested by Border Patrol in the Rio Grande Valley has doubled in the first nine months of this fiscal year compared to the same period last year. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)
In this July 10, 2014, photo, children watch television at the "Todo por Ellos" shelter for migrant children in Tapachula, Mexico. Once detained the border the U.S. generally releases unaccompanied children to parents or relatives while their cases take years to wend through overwhelmed immigration courts. That reality gave rise to rumors of a new law or amnesty for children. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)
My heart has been going out to the thousands of children at our borders, and I feel inclined to ask that we step back a moment and realize that by asking that they be sent back to their countries, we are addressing the problem at the wrong end.
There is an analogy used in prevention work that is very fitting for this situation.
A villager was standing on the side of the river, and he noticed a child floating by and struggling. The villager swam out and pulled the child to shore and called for help.
As the villagers came to the shore they noticed that there were more children coming down the river. They combined their efforts and started pulling as many children from the river as they could.
Meanwhile, one of the villagers started walking away and up the river. One of the villagers cried out, “Where are you going?” She said, “I am going to find out why these children are falling into the river!”
In the case of the immigrant children on our borders, I know that there are some people working to help the children and others are working to dam the river so the children have to try to swim back to where they started.
A few others are trying to find out where the problem started. In trying to find out where the problem started, we become a part of the solution. In trying to dam the river and sending the children back (and probably drowning in the process) we become part of the problem.
I have heard of many possible scenarios as to why these children are crossing the border. Some say it is because of lax immigration policies on the part of the Obama administration and others report that the activities of gang members who were deported from the United States are increasing the danger for the children in their home countries.
I don’t agree that poor immigration policies have contributed to this issue. For each of these children who have fled their home, the situation must have been pretty dire to warrant being separated from all they know to come to a place that has shown a lot of evidence that they are not wanted.
Whatever they are facing in their country must be pretty bad to risk the trauma of entering into the unknown. Whenever we don’t address the source of a problem we, as a nation, risk setting the stage for further conflict within and outside of our country.
When we don’t address the poverty and conflict in other countries, then we are allowing the ground to become fertile for future Saddam Husseins, Osama bin Ladens, Fidel Castros and other dictators. We allow the perpetration of terrorist groups such as Boko Haram.
By not addressing poverty, we end up with mothers who are arrested for leaving their children unattended in playgrounds while they work a minimum wage job.
Poverty breeds rebellion and when it is not addressed, it is the ultimate cause of more violence and war.
By addressing the reason that families are sending their children north, we will not only decrease the number of children who will seek safety within our borders in the future, we will also be able to eliminate the atmosphere that breeds the discontent that leads to violence.
Einstein said that “we can’t stop the problem with the same thinking that created it.”
In this case, we can’t stop the problem of thousands of children crossing our border with violence when it is violence that created the problem. We need to embrace them and seek to find peaceful ways of meeting the needs of those who are seeking safety and finding ways to solve the problems for those children who have been left behind.
(Linda Douglas lives in Penacook.)