Children on the Border: A Thought Exercise

Humor me a moment. I'd ask you to close your eyes, but you can't do that and read, so instead I just ask that you access your imagination.

You live in a large suburban development, one of those one with several cul-de-sacs, open spaces, and busy roads separating the different neighborhoods. You know the kids on your block by name, you might recognize the kids from the nearby neighborhood, but you have no idea who the kids are who live on the farthest edges of the development.

You and your neighbors have set up a neighborhood watch and safe haven program. The kids in the neighborhood know that if they are approached by a stranger, or even if they face abuse in their own home, they can come to the houses with the safe haven sign and they will be safe. You will offer them something to eat, listen to their story, and if necessary, call the police or child protective services to help them.  When you hang that sign on your window, after having received the required training and background check, you have made a promise to help a kid who comes to your door seeking safe haven. You have broadcasted the message that you can be trusted to help a child in need, even if they come from the farthest edge of the development.

But one day, as you are drinking your morning coffee, there's a knock on your door. You look out the window and there is a whole gaggle of kids. They look different than the kids in your neighborhood. You don't know them. Why are they here? The oldest of the kids points to the safe haven sign in your window. You pull back the curtain and shake your head, thinking, I don't know you, I can't help you. The youngest kid, clutching her stuffed animal, sucks her thumb. The big sister holding her hand looks back anxiously. They are scared of someone, something. But you are still looking at them, through the curtain.

As your spouse comes down the stairs, and asks you what's going on, what do you do?

  • Do you keep the door closed and hope they'll just go away?
  • Do make the oldest kid tell you their address, pack the whole group in your minivan and drive them back to their house, not knowing or caring what dangers you are sending them back to?
  • Or do you honor your promise, open the door, give the kids temporary food and shelter while you contact the proper authorities who will investigate--see what the problem is that sent the kids to pack up and travel alone across the railroad tracks, through the forested park, over the busy road, and to your street looking for safe haven--and offer them safety and the help they need?
If you have a shred of human decency, and to be honest if you are reading this blog, then my bet is you've got a whole lot more than a shred of decency, you know what you'd do. You'd help the kids, not only because you promised to when you hung that sign in your window, but because that's the right thing to do with another human being in need, especially a child.

The situation at our border with children fleeing gangs, human trafficking, and violence in Central America is this situation writ large. When Congress passed and George W. Bush signed the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act in 2008, we hung up a "safe harbor"  sign in our collective window. Sure, we may not have realized the consequences of that act of humanity, but we hung up the sign.

Moving away from my simple imagination exercsie, if you'd like a thorough analysis of what is at stake here and some resources for action, I suggest the following: 
  • See pages 7-8 of the Freedom Network's Response to the 2014 US Trafficking in Persons Report. This section deals with the unaccompanied minor provision. This highlights the very real reality that may of the children at our door are fleeing potential or actual trafficking situations. "Massive and expedited deportation of such youth is simply not the answer and unaligned with the U.S. government’s goals in combatting trafficking."
  • See the reflection and action guide developed by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace, my religious congregation, on this issue.
  • Write your representatives. Call the president. Be an obnoxious advocate for these scared children on our doorsteps, far from their parents and pawns in a political game. You can send an e-message through the Ignatian Solidarity Network and Friends National Committee on Legislation.
  • Set the story straight when friends or neighbors speak inaccurately, unjustly, or inhumanely about the reality of the children at our border today.
Loving God, comfort your children far from home, seeking safety and shelter from their powerful neighbor. Give us the compassion, wisdom, and courage to open our doors, widen our hearts, and spread our wings to offer our protection. Inspire each of us to act in charity and for justice. Amen.

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