Our Opinion: The disposables


Governors such as Deval Patrick of Massachusetts and our own Peter Shumlin have taken the lead in the Northeast to offer refuge to the Central American children who are housed in deplorable conditions along the United States' border with Mexico.

"My faith teaches that 'if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him,' but rather 'love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt," said Patrick, while announcing two locations in the Bay State to temporarily house some of the nearly 60,000 children. "My inclination is to remember what happened when a ship full of Jewish children tried to come to the United States in 1939 and the United States turned them away, and many of them went to their deaths in Nazi concentration camps."

And in Vermont, Shumlin has asked the mayor of Burlington to identify facilities in Vermont that could be used for temporary housing.

"We've let (Health and Human Services) know that we are willing to investigate locations and logistical requirements and work with them to determine if Vermont would be an appropriate host state," said Shumlin.

While a number of other governors who are Democrats have offered to help resolve the situation, many Republican governors, while expressing "empathy" for the plight of the children, want them sent home and the borders secured. The crisis has also become another talking point in the Republicans' on-going attack of the president.

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant wrote a letter to the president, in which he blamed the crisis on the "administration's lax immigration policies" and accused the administration of encouraging children to make dangerous trips across the border and face the "serious threat of violence and abuse at the hands of human traffickers

Gov. May Fallin, of Oklahoma, said what many people are thinking, and not just politicians.

"Many of our public schools are already at capacity and need additional funding. Our health-care systems is strained as it is. Now, instead of allowing us to address those needs for Oklahomans, President Obama is forcing us to add an unspecified number of illegal immigrants to our public education and public health systems."

(Would it be stating the obvious if we were to point out that Oklahoma is one of the states that refused to set up an insurance exchange under the Affordable Care Act?)

And one resident of Grand Prairie, Texas, voiced in one sentence the reaction of many Americans to plans to house the children.

"I vehemently oppose providing anything but a ticket home to these illegals."

But, in shipping these children straight back to where they came from, let's be entirely clear what awaits them.

According to a 2013 survey conducted by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Salvadoran and Honduran children "come from extremely violent regions where they probably perceive the risk of traveling alone to the U.S. preferable to remaining at home."

"Surveys found that about half of the children had been harmed or threatened by gangs or agents of the state," notes Politifact. "Children did not tend to come from Central American countries with less crime and better economies."

Or perhaps we should turn to people such as Univision's Maria Elena Salinas who traveled to Central America to find out exactly why these children are leaving.

"They're not emigrating, but fleeing in fear. In Honduras, which is considered the most dangerous country in the world, poverty combines with the underlying danger on the streets caused by conflicts between rival gangs and the increasing presence of drug cartels. Young people in Honduras have two options: Either leave or stay behind and face death."

As Jesse Jackson notes, writing for the Chicago Sun Times, "These children are not immigrants. They are not seeking jobs. They are refugees seeking safety. They aren't running to America; they are running from homes where their lives are under threat."

As Jackson notes, "Our economy doesn't work for most Americans. Our immigration system is broken, abused by low-wage employers, and needs to be fixed. It is understandable that people are angry and scared. But surely we still have the generosity of spirit to provide refuge for children in terror of their lives."

We reject the argument raised by those opposed to helping these children, that we have enough problems in America or that we should help our own people first. That's an otiose argument that, on its surface, seems to make sense but is, in fact, a sophomoric excuse for avoiding the heavy thinking required. And those arguments often come from people who have no tolerance for the vulnerable in our community and those who complain about the "takers" who don't deserve our help.

We are the richest nation in the world, not only financially but spiritually and, yes, compassionately. But instead of caring for the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse, the homeless and the tempest-tossed, we spend half of our national treasure every year on the weapons of war.

Even if we refuse to care for these children who have washed up onto our shore, in all reality, will we care for those born here and already drowning? No, we won't.

These children camped out on our southern border -- and those who are living in poverty and neglect in our own communities -- are emblematic of the way the world treats its youth. From the children killed in Palestine, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, to the school girls kidnapped in Nigeria, to the youngsters forced to work in cramped factories in Bangladesh, to the baby girls killed for just being girls, to the children forced into prostitution, to the black boy or girl growing up in America without a father who is in jail for decades for a minor drug conviction, we have attached little importance to the lives of poor children who are alone, threatened and have no real opportunities available to them to help them escape their deplorable situations.

We treat them as commodities, at best, and disposable, at worst. We turn our backs on them, whether out of indifference or contempt ... or the very real instinct to protect ourselves from the emotional encumbrance of acknowledging the despondency of their lives.

We, as a nation, have the resources to help these children, and not just those stuck in limbo at our southern border, but also all the children, ours and the world's. Instead, we choose to squander our capital on bullets and bombs and on weapons systems that don't work as promised, while enriching those who profit from militarization and its resulting death and mayhem.

Those who are screaming at children at our borders to go home, should instead be picketing the enablers of the military/industrial complex. Perhaps then we could address the issues that force people to leave their homes for an uncertain future in a foreign land.


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