Heidi Crumrine: Not everyone is so lucky

  • Immigrant children walk in a line outside the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children on June 20 in Homestead, Fla. AP

Monitor columnist
Published: 12/9/2018 12:30:03 AM

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I don’t have to buy any presents, I get to eat a lot of food and I spend time with my family. It is a calming sense of peace before the frenzy of Christmas. There is just something about the tradition of a family coming to be together that gets me every time. We have traveled various distances all to be with one another, to simply share a meal.

Not everyone is so lucky. There are currently 13,000 migrant children being held in detention centers across the United States. Their reasons for being in these centers are varied. Some have crossed the border by themselves, some are awaiting trial for deportation and some are legally seeking asylum, but they all have one essential thing in common: They are separated from their families.

These detention facilities are not places where children should be living. The Tornillo Children’s Prison Camp outside of El Paso, for example, is a depressing example of this reality. It was originally built to temporarily house 450 children but has since ballooned to housing nearly 3,000. The children live in tents surrounded by a chain-link fence topped by barbed wire. In addition, according to the Department of Health & Human Services, the Trump administration waived FBI background checks for workers at Tornillo and is allowing the nonprofit running the facility to skip over mental health checks for employees. In order for me to volunteer in my children’s elementary school, I must undergo fingerprinting and a background check.

Yet what is happening inside this facility and others is even worse. Since 2013, there have been 1,300 claims of sexual abuse; there are likely more that have gone unreported. We know what this means for our world’s most vulnerable children who are living in these centers.

Let’s set aside the issue of immigration for now and instead focus on the fact that these are children, already here in the United States, away from their families, alone and without access to a quality education. As an educator, I am particularly disturbed by this issue of educational inequity. While there are reports that the children are receiving some schooling, that does not necessarily mean it is good schooling. How are they to find success in life, to break out of the cycle of poverty, to become contributing members to our society, if they are not offered a chance at an education?

How is this happening and how is it not the human rights crisis of this century? Have we, as a society, learned nothing from the atrocities of the past? There are so many examples of such evil in our history, and with each one, we ask the same question: Why? We always have the same response: This should never happen again.

Yet here we are. Separating children, some still breastfeeding, nearly all who have witnessed unspeakable trauma, from their parents. We put them in overcrowded detention centers, with limited access to the resources they need, and most importantly, without the love and nurturing environment that all children need to thrive.

This makes me question why a nation of helicopter and bulldozer parents are okay with the incarceration of migrant children. We want what is best for our children, want to keep them safe, and want them to know that we love them. How are migrant children any different from our own? Their only sin is being born into circumstances that most of us cannot imagine. If we want the best for our own children, then we want it for all children. In the words of Fred Rogers: “We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’” The reality is that it could be my child, my community, my world, my problem.

It is remarkable to me that this is even an issue. As an educator, as a mother, as a human being, I implore all of us to stand on the right side of history. You can add your voice by joining me and other educators by posting a 30-second video to your social media accounts raising awareness about this crisis, and using the hashtags #EducationNotDetention, #FreeOurFuture and #ClassroomsNotCages; you can contact members of Congress and demand action; you can contribute to organizations that are trying to help.

When you gather with your families this holiday season, look at the children around you. Be grateful they were born into circumstances that have brought them to your table, and that you have a choice to be there with them. Not everyone is so lucky.

Book Suggestions

Older readers:

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

Saint Death by Marcus Sedgwick

The Good Braider by Terry Farish

A Hope More Powerful than the Sea by Melissa Fleming

Middle-grade readers :

Escape from Aleppo by N.H. Senzai

Illegal by Eoin Colfer & Andrew Donkin, illustrated by Giovanni Rigano

Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate

Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Young readers:

Where Will I Live? By Rosemary McCarney

The Banana-Leaf Ball: How Play Can Change the World by Katie Smith Milway, illustrated by Shane W. Evans

Four Feet, Two Sandals by Karen Lynn Williams & Khadra Mohammed

(Heidi Crumrine, the 2018 New Hampshire Teacher of the Year, teaches English at Concord High School.)

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