ColumnistsMarian Wright EdelmanOp-EdOpinion

Child Watch: Migrant Children—Innocent Victims on the U.S. War on Drugs

Marian Wright Edelman

By Marian Wright Edelman
NNPA Columnist

Bishop Minerva Carcaño, the Los Angeles Area Resident Bishop of the United Methodist Church, is acting with urgency. Along with more than 100 other religious leaders and activists, she was arrested for civil disobedience at the White House for protesting the deportation of the unaccompanied children crossing our border after fleeing from the brutal violence and poverty of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

A few days earlier, she visited Port Hueneme Naval Base in Oxnard, Calif. for the second time and met some of the hundreds of migrant children temporarily housed there. Joining her this time were Bishop J. Jon Bruno of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, Robert Ross of the California Endowment, and Fred Ali of the Weingart Foundation.

Referring to first visit to Port Hueneme, she said, “The naval base has been turned into a holding site for these children, and it was to capacity with 575 children and young people between the ages of 13 and 17, and they’ve all been through horrific experiences. Many of the girls have experienced sexual assaults, and some of them have been raped . . . If you ask them what the prayer in their heart is, they’ll tell you immediately, with a sense of faith, that indeed it’s going to happen – and their prayer is that God will give them life.”

Bishop Carcaño spoke to the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF)’s Samuel DeWitt Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry at CDF Haley Farm in mid-July about the humanitarian crisis of thousands of desperate children crossing our border. The details are haunting: An unaccompanied toddler being cared for by little girls sitting in a locked cell for 12 days. A grandmother with three little granddaughters who a gang had threatened to take if she didn’t pay more than $20,000.

Nearly 60,000 unaccompanied children traveling alone. They are in many ways the latest innocent victims of the U.S. war on drugs. Even as the U.S. worked with Mexico and Colombia to close down the drug cartels and gangs there, the massive market for illegal drugs here in our nation has remained. To feed our illegal drug habit, the drug lords and vicious gangs have moved operations and created unprecedented levels of violence in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Now these essentially lawless countries have become some of the most dangerous places on the planet.

Part of the solution may rest with the faith community here and abroad. I am encouraged to see the coming together of many faiths in McAllen, Texas to respond to the crisis in their city. But this crisis needs a compassionate response from every city and our entire nation. I shudder when I see the angry outbursts about these helpless children coming from some communities.

The best solution, as always for children, is to reunite them with their families whenever and as soon as possible. Of the nearly 60,000 unaccompanied children who have crossed the border since October, it is reported that nearly 50,000 of them have been released to sponsors or family members, sometimes even to a parent already living in the U.S. The continuing horror is for those children being kept in detention like those Bishop Carcaño keeps visiting.

In her July Haley Farm sermon, Bishop Carcaño said: “If our children see us ignoring the plight of the immigrant child, what do we teach them? Do we not teach them that immigrant children are worthless, not worth our attention or our care? And what do we teach the immigrant children if they never see anyone extend a hand, a caring hand to them? Do we not confirm that lesson of worthlessness, and do we not teach them that the world is indeed cruel and unjust? And will either lesson bring them and us any justice, any equity, any peace, any joy?”

Bishop Carcaño’s words are a reminder that those of us who follow Jesus’ teachings and the call in every major faith tradition to care for children must act on our faith. We must see these thousands of children in need of help right now not as a political dilemma but as an urgent humanitarian crisis.

As Bishop Carcaño says: “We must be the strongest witness for justice in God’s reign that we can muster, a witness for the children . . . not just for some children, but for all of God’s children.”

As such witnesses, we must help ensure sufficient resources are provided by the government and faith and other community organizations so these vulnerable children will be treated humanely, find safe families and warm food to eat, and receive the counsel and due process hearings guaranteed them in law before any are returned to their dangerous homelands and possible deaths.

It is deplorable that Members of Congress left town for their own summer vacations with the humanitarian crisis continuing and without providing the resources the government needs to ensure safety and justice for these innocent children.

Marian Wright Edelman is president of the Children’s Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to www.childrensdefense.org.

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Marian Wright Edelman

Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children's Defense Fund (CDF), has been an advocate for disadvantaged Americans for her entire professional life. Under her leadership, CDF has become the nation’s strongest voice for children and families. The Children's Defense Fund’s Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start, and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. Mrs. Edelman served on the Board of Trustees of Spelman College which she chaired from 1976 to 1987 and was the first woman elected by alumni as a member of the Yale University Corporation on which she served from 1971 to 1977. She has received over a hundred honorary degrees and many awards including the Albert Schweitzer Humanitarian Prize, the Heinz Award, and a MacArthur Foundation Prize Fellowship. In 2000, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award, and the Robert F. Kennedy Lifetime Achievement Award for her writings which include: Families in Peril: An Agenda for Social Change; The Measure of Our Success: A Letter to My Children and Yours; Guide My Feet: Meditations and Prayers on Loving and Working for Children; Stand for Children; Lanterns: A Memoir of Mentors; Hold My Hand: Prayers for Building a Movement to Leave No Child Behind; I'm Your Child, God: Prayers for Our Children; I Can Make a Difference: A Treasury to Inspire Our Children; and The Sea Is So Wide and My Boat Is So Small: Charting a Course for the Next Generation.

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