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Monday, July 28, 2014

Children at the Border: Have We Forgotten Who We Are?

Thousands of unaccompanied children enter the United States each week, seeking asylum and shelter. The number of kids under the age of 12 arriving without a parent or guardian has more than doubled in the last year. These children have tremendous stories, both from their journeys and from their lives back home. The the logistics and politics of the situation are complicated, but what shouldn't be is how we as Christians treat them when they arrive on our doorstep (see post: Immigration: Stranger in a Strange Land).

Alone, tired, and scared these children have traveled thousands of miles (predominantly from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador) on the off chance they can find refuge in a country that boasts of its excellence, its prosperity, and its "Christian values." Instead, they are greeted by guns,  barbed wire, angry protests, and the vitriol of a fearful and insecure nation. They are spat at, shouted at, called names, and cursed in the name the God that created them. "God bless America", but God damn anyone trying to enter it.

We are so very concerned about the situation on our own border, but the conditions driving children to leave go largely uncovered and unaided. When we shout "go home!" do we really understand what we are saying? Honduras has the word's highest murder rate. El Salvador is the runner up, with Guatemala not far behind. Food prices have doubled, due in no small measure to ethanol policies in the United States. Children are being co-opted into gangs, abducted, and murdered, and in the face of broken government and law enforcement, their parents are helpless to stop it. When we say "go home" we are really saying "go home and die."

Why is the "protector of the free world" unconcerned for the neighbors in its own backyard? The United States's political motivations are complicated, but it's clear that we reserve our cavalier interventions for the protection of only a certain subset of children.

And so girls and boys from "low-priority" countries "knowingly [set] out on harrowing journeys to come to the U.S. because the alternative—staying in their home countries and waiting for some other kind of relief—means almost certain death." 

In a recent sermon, Rev. John Edgar wondered how bad it would have to be to feel that the only option was to send your child, empty handed and alone, thousands of miles on the chance that they might find safety and refuge. With all the poverty and violence happening in our own streets, can we imagine it getting so bad that we would be forced to make such a decision for our own kids? To send them away, rather than keeping them close under your own protection?

Imagine having to decide that it is in the best interest of your 10-year-old girl to send her by herself from Washington DC to San Francisco to escape the conditions of her own neighborhood. Imagine sending her over mountains, through deserts, across rivers, in the hope that she manages to arrive safely on the west coast. Imagine that you hear that she actually managed to make it, only to be met by angry mobs telling her "go home" and "don't take my stuff." And what is more, you hear that these hoards were led by Christians--that it was God's own people that rejected your child. Could you send away your 10-year-old child under these conditions? Would you send even your 16-year-old? How heart wrenching must it be? How dangerous the consequences of failing to do so?
Click to enlarge:
"Via an unknown road"

Don't we follow a Christ that taught us that whatever we do to the least to these we have done to Him? Weren't we told to give the cloaks off our backs and care for the afflicted? Scripture tells us "when a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself" (Leviticus 19:33-34). And we are warned "I will be swift... against those who thrust aside the sojourners, and do not fear me" (Malachi 3:5).

Our faith is founded on the shoulders of unaccompanied children immigrating to strange lands. As a teenager, Joseph narrowly escaped death, forcibly leaving his parents to live in a foreign country. Moses's mother sent him down the river in a basket to escape imminent death. David spends much of his life fleeing those trying to destroy him. And Jesus himself was a child forced escape violence and oppression by becoming a refugee in a foreign country. People of God, have we forgotten who we are?

What if Joseph hadn't be able to get a housekeeping job in the new country? What if Pharaoh’s daughter hadn't taken in a child in need? What if Saul's son, Jonathan, hadn't defied the law for David's sake? What if the Egyptian immigration agents had stopped Joseph and Mary at the border? Where would we be today, but for those immigrants and refugees?

Click to enlarge
Our attitudes toward this current influx of children is obscene, not to mention entirely un-Christlike.  Yes, the situation is complicated, but that's what makes the austere rhetoric around the issue so astounding. Some of the most severe dictators will still open their borders for refugeesIraq, in all its turbulence, currently hosts more refugees than does the United States. And we clam to be leaders of democracy and the free world?

There are indeed some Christians actively living into their values of hospitality on the border. There are others who are working tirelessly to affect change in public perception and policies. But what message does it send when the hateful voices are the loudest? What if instead we boldly proclaim the God that rescues. The God that saves. The God that does not heartlessly tell us to "go away," but says instead "welcome home."

"Photo taken inside a shelter in McAllen, Texas."


  1. I was watching Melissa Harris Perry on MSNBC and she made a statement that made me rethink this immigration crises at the border. She said it reminded her of the little girl Ruby Bridges in the Norman Rockwall painting on her first day of school and all the hateful whites and their racist taunts screaming at a little child. Or the Little Rock Nine attending the all white high school and being heckled and tormented by an angry mob of racist whites in the 1950's. Melissa Harris Perry said this is America acting ugly and not on it's best behavior.

  2. This immigrant border solution is very difficult and conflicting.

  3. Indeed! I came across this image this week:

  4. truthseeker2436577@yahoo.comJuly 29, 2014 at 6:17 PM

    It is a shame that children are treated as less than human by xenophobic extreme. Even the law gives these children the right to be treated humanly in America. The solution to this problem is definitely a combination of things. Yet, we should not scapegoat immigrants for every problem in America.


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