Children at the Border

migrant children mex

A few updates from Scott:

7.July – Thanks Mary. I am going to be here two more weeks. It is quieter here so far today. The plane load left and the numbers are down from yesterday. I met Caesar this morning, he is by himself, 11 years old and was brought over by a coyote from Mexico. I have an app on my iPhone that helps me communicate with the kids. Since it is slow (slower) today, I am hanging out with Caesar today in between handing out apples. Caesar came here from El Salvador. These kids don’t understand politics, they are just trying to find a safer place than they have at home.

 8.July – Caesar just left for Brownsville about ten minutes ago. We became pretty good friends, he had such a good nature and a great smile. We were able to let the kids out to play with a nerf soccer ball this morning. Brownsville is not very far down the road from here but it will be a better place temporarily for Caesar and his new friends. They will be able to take showers there and there is a better outside play area. Paula made me promise not to bring any of the kids home with me. That is really not an option anyway, good thing. Caesar would like it [at our place].

My friend, Scott Flowerday lives rural NE Texas – in a house of light, space and friendly dogs with one of my best girlfriends from college.  Her name is Paula.

Paula and Scott are brilliant.  They also have enormous hearts.  Hearts fortified by generous and agile minds – nothing could be finer!

Scott loves the wide sky of his home with Paula, but his work takes him away from home sometimes.  His absence is episodic.  He works for FEMA.

This week Scott has been in McAllen, Texas assisting the Border Patrol in responding to the influx of families, children, and individual adults immigrating from Central and South America.  I know too little about the story in McAllen – too little about circumstances powerful enough to make it so children will leave their homelands – will travel hundreds of miles to find relief from situations dire enough to flee.

Scott’s Facebook posts entered my First World reality so I can now know of all of this.  So I can follow.  So I can lend support from the vast privilege of my one wild and precious life.

Here are some of his recent posts:

5.July – Slow day here at the McAllen Border Patrol Station. Fewer unaccompanied children. Lots of rumors about why. Yesterday the rumor was that the cartels were cracking down on people trying to cross, today the rumor is that the beast (the train between Mexico and Central America) had derailed. Another rumor is that Obama may visit next week, so I may get to meet the President. 

6.July – Another day at McAllen Border Patrol Station. Arrived at work to assist with breakfast. Unexpectedly buses loaded with 140 detainees headed for a flight out were returned to the station because the flight was cancelled (no one here knows why). Not enough breakfast for the additional 140 (all women and children). I helped make 140 bologna sandwiches to help tide them over until we could get more food at lunch. I continue to be impressed by my crew of young Americorp Volunteers. I would highly recommend this program to motivated young people looking to earn some tuition money.

It is quieting back down. Hopefully it stays that way. Another bus load going out, but the tide continues to come in.

6.July – later – One hundred forty women and children still here. Crowded into a holding cell really not made for more than 40 or 50. Helping to feed tonight, I noticed one of the babies covered in a red bumpy rash. Called the medic over, and he determined the baby had scabies. Now possible everyone in the cell has scabies. Rough day. It is so hard watching little ones going through this.

They have FEMA assisting with the unaccompanied children from Central and South America.  I volunteered to assist and have just finished my first week at the McAllen, TX Border Patrol Station.  It is the tip of the spear, with the highest number of detainees being processed here. 

I have a group of seven really hard-working Americorp kids (all in their early twenties) assigned to me.  We focus on helping the kids and the mothers with kids.  I am really good now as helping mix formula, filling bottles with Pedialyte, handing out manzanas (apples), sweeping, picking up trash, operating the hand washing trough, and giving directions and assistance with lice treatments (now spotting scabies).  The smiles I get for my poor attempts at speaking Spanish help me get through the day. 

In another state, California, children and others from South and Central America also continue to arrive.  Scott linked to a blog written by Jim Wallis documenting this past week in that state.  The blog filled in some of the gaps I was missing on the larger story – but its focus was specifically on what happened in Murrieta, CA on July 1.

Did you see the pictures from Tuesday in Murrieta, California? Three buses were full of unaccompanied minors and mothers with children, all fleeing violence in Central America. According to American immigration officials, they were being taken by Homeland Security to a U.S. Border Patrol Station for processing and eventual deportation—after being flown to San Diego from Texas, where they had walked across the U.S. border seeking safety. The buses of children were blocked by adults yelling that they weren’t wanted here in the United States. Big angry white men, holding signs the children couldn’t read, with angry faces screaming at them in a language they didn’t understand—when they were already alone and away from their families and home—would certainly make children feel very afraid. Some of the kids were reportedly as young as six years old.

The town mayor, Alan Long, said the children posed a threat to his community and that he was “proud” of the demonstrators. One hundred-and-fifty protesters waved American flags, chanted “USA! USA!” and shouted to the scared children, “Go home—we don’t want you here.” Totally blocked from reaching the processing center, the buses turned around and left for another Border Patrol Station, where some of the children were reportedly taken to a hospital for unspecified treatment.  

More than 52,000 unaccompanied children from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras have walked across the U.S. border since last October—some, unfortunately, by way of human trafficking networks though Mexico. Thousands more have come with their parents. The surge has overwhelmed the system and become a very serious humanitarian crisis to which U.S. officials are scrambling to respond.

I missed this.

It turns out, the White House is seeing the influx of children as an emergency.  George Stephanopoulos reported last week that Obama is turning to Congress for funding to respond to this “record surge of unaccompanied children from Central America,” and, Stephanopoulos adds, for authority to extend “the legal power to deport those children more quickly.”  And today the word from the President is that most of the children crossing the border will be deported.

Writing for ABC News in an article accompanying the Stephanopoulos comments, journalist Jim Avila offered the following:

What’s the Reality?

In fact, desperate Central American parents are exploiting separate legal loopholes in American border security passed before Obama took office.

Unaccompanied minors fall under the bipartisan law, William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008, which passed the House and Senate unanimously and was signed into law by President George W. Bush.

That law says the children cannot be sent back. They must instead be held humanely by the Department of Health and Human Services until the courts release them to a “suitable family member” in this country.

The child “shall be promptly placed in the least restrictive setting that is in the best interest of the child,” the law stipulates. “Placement of child trafficking victims may include placement in an Unaccompanied Refugee Minor program … if a suitable family member is not available to provide care.”

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) sources say more than 80 percent of these children will find permanent homes in the U.S., with either family or foster homes and not be sent back to Central America.

Meanwhile, there is no place to house those mothers flooding the border with their children, as Thomas Homan, executive associate director of ICE for Enforcement and Removal Operations, told a House committee last week.

So, now I know way more than I did before I happened on my friend Scott’s reports.  Like others who commented on his posts, I am grateful for the immediacy and relevance of his work.

I’m not sure about all the other political two-stepping around the lives of these children and their parents.  I’m not sure the people risking entry into this country are the root of the problem.

For meeting that question I don’t look to D.C., I look to the wisdom in each of us.  What do we want for our children – for our grandchildren and for all the ones yet to be born – each into the one wild and precious life that is theirs alone?

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