The book of the prophet Isaiah contains a beautiful image of a paradise to come:
Then the wolf shall be the guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat; The calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them.”
— Isaiah 11:6 NAB
Of course, we don’t live in such a paradise. Last time I watched a nature special, Mother Nature is still red of tooth and claw.
But the idea that a little child might be a guide to a better life . . . that just might have some present reality.
So here are two numbers about little children that may lead us to face a difficult policy challenge more honestly:
- 100,000 children in the U.S. may be victims of human trafficking in any given year. And that’s in the U.S. only; globally, the State Department estimates that the number of individuals (mostly women and children) who are being “trafficked” exceeds 20 million.
Our policy response to the first number is complicated by our policy response to the second.
One small step the U.S. has taken to protect immigrant children from exploitation is the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008. Among other things, the law requires the government to take minors who enter this country illegally (and aren’t from Mexico or Canada) into a kind of protective custody that is supposed to be more caring than punitive. It also guarantees these children a day in court, so to speak, so that their circumstances can be understood better and a more humane response to their situation determined.
But when tens of thousands of such minors arrive in the span of six months, everyone is overwhelmed.
One common response to this crisis is aptly summarized by Senator John McCain: “The message has to be, ‘If you cross our border illegally, you will be returned immediately.’” Senator McCain would repeal the 2008 law in order to clear the way for this blanket enforcement response.
I’m just wondering if that’s who we are . . . who we choose to be.
I have a daughter who claims that, in a debate, anyone who invokes the Nazis as an analogy automatically loses, because it so typically is simply extreme hyperbole.
I’ll risk it.
Because I’m not going to suggest that we (any of us) are like the Nazis in this crisis. Rather, I wish to suggest that we are acting just like we did three-quarters of a century ago in response to the Nazi regime.
For a host of reasons (concerns about jobs and unemployment, increasing the burden on the society, and, without question, prejudice), we in this country refused many requests to emigrate here from people (Jews, of course, but not just Jews) fleeing Hitler and his plans. We occasionally made small-scale adjustments in the quotas then in place. More often, however, we held the line against the wave of desperate immigrants.
Millions of people, unable to flee (to the U.S. or anyplace else) died.
We didn’t know that would happen . . . though evidence was coming in to suggest what the future would look like (and what already was happening). We can be “excused,” I suppose, at least to some extent.
This year, we’re dealing with tens of thousands of children. They aren’t fleeing some “final solution,” but many are fleeing seriously dangerous conditions in their home countries. What is more, if we just “send them back,” that doesn’t mean we drop them off on their doorstep back at home.
It means we simply kick them across the border back into Mexico, or (possibly) fly them to an airport in their home country and leave them there.
Generally speaking, if our government takes temporary custody of a minor, we don’t usually just drop them at a street corner and wish them luck.
Not even in their home town.
Not even if they are a convicted felon.
But these 52,000 . . . well, they aren’t “our” kids, right? So their fate
isn’t our problem.
What these little refugees are revealing isn’t just how porous our border is (and what the cost will be to make us a “fortress” that can’t be breached by illegal immigrants). They reveal the complexity of the whole issue of immigration, not just about kids, but about adult individuals, and separated families. About criminal traffickers who casually break any law and about hungry and ambitious young men and women looking to make their way by hard work and breaking just one law.
What’s the answer? I don’t know.
What I do know is that I wouldn’t want to be an INS officer dropping a frightened eight-year-old across the border and a thousand miles from home.