A few weeks ago I had the honor to stand with Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti, police chief Charles Beck, and city council member Gil Cedillo as the Los Angeles police agreed to stop the harassment of undocumented workers and unaccompanied minors. This was a huge victory for the immigrant community in Los Angeles. The police will focus on detaining criminals—not undocumented workers—unless there is probable cause or a warrant from a judge.
Tensions here in Southern California have been on the rise. Border patrol agents are bringing hundreds of unaccompanied minors to the federal processing center in the city of Murrieta. I was in Murrieta and witnessed the growing tension; there was a very real chance of a physical fight breaking out. This troubles my heart greatly.
What is it that makes people feel such ambivalence toward Latin American immigrants? How different would the situation be if these unaccompanied minors where European? Many immigrants, these children included, come to this country out of desperation, to flee persecution and escape poverty and hunger. People in these situations who cross borders are called refugees. We normally think of refugees as groups in some far-off, war-torn country, but here they are on American soil.
President Obama asked Congress for $3.7 billion in emergency funding to address the surge of unaccompanied children crossing into the United States. Of that, $295 million will be available to help governments within the region better control their borders and address the underlying economic, social, governance, and security conditions that are contributing to this humanitarian crisis. This is a good start, but it doesn’t amount to even one percent of the funds requested. Until Congress and the president focus on the migration push factors, many will continue to risk their lives in search of better opportunity.
I find myself constantly praying for the safety of those children as they brave the deserts that have taken the lives of thousands, with only an empty stomach and memories of their impoverished life to motivate them. I pray for the families that have to make the agonizing decision to send their children to a foreign land, not knowing if they will make it safely or be sold or killed along the way. I pray for those here to see that these are their brothers and sisters who come because they have to, not because they want to.
When I see these unaccompanied minors, I know they are here because of love. Their families love them so much that they want better for them. They simply have no means of providing it; the only option is to send them to a country that could possibly do what they are unable to.
We all know we are not guaranteed a “better life.” Circumstances, access to resources, education, hard work, and other factors all contribute to our ability to attain more. But we have a much higher chance of getting there than those in many Latin American countries. The solution to this crisis is not more security personnel, higher fences, thicker walls, deeper waters, or more powerful weapons. Solving this problem will require policies that spur development and opportunity in other countries and that allow families to stay together.
We at Bread for the World see the humanitarian crisis that is unfolding. We are moved by compassion and justice. We have stepped up our advocacy around immigration push factors and will continue to push Congress. We are encouraged by the president’s intentions but firmly believe Congress must be moved. We stand with and for those seeking an exodus from hunger and poverty.
2014 © Dulce Gamboa. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Image by Jonathan McIntosh protestors photo by Ruben Luenguas, child at border by U.S. Customs and Border Protection