The Children’s Crusade
They are pouring in every day over the Mexican border, from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, which currently has the world’s highest murder rate. They are mostly children, unaccompanied by a parent or adult, unless you count the coyotes who have been paid exorbitant sums to smuggle them in. There are about 57,000 since last October, a truly astonishing number. These are the ones who have been caught. We don’t know how many died on the way, or were sold into either labor or sexual slavery. Most hop a series of trains north through Mexico, called La Bestia, ‘the Beast.’ The train doesn’t stop, so they have to run and jump, a risky activity at best. Once on the train, they become easy targets for other predators. And they are pouring in every day. To a lesser degree they’re also flooding into Mexico, Nicaragua, Belize, Costa Rica, and Panama.
What to do with them? That’s the question everyone seems to be asking. No one seems concerned about what brought them here, or what conditions led them to take a desperate thousand mile journey. No one wants to talk about measures our government could take that would prevent them having to come here at all. So I will address the first question. The Republicans are nearly unanimous in their demands to deport them right away, but then they see these people as illegal immigrants, which they are not. They are by any sense of the word, refugees, as the UN states. Our Democratic President hardly fares better, having deported more undocumented workers in his first term than George W. Bush did in two. Deportation back to the atrocities they escaped from is no answer, unless the way America presents itself to the rest of the world has been a complete lie. We must take care of these refugees until it’s safe for them to return home (never mind that we can’t seem to even take care of our own children, 25% of which live in poverty), while at the same time coming to terms with the cause. Under a 2008 law they would fall under protection by HHS, Health & Human Services, and be eligible for an immigration hearing. The INS has a backlog of about 400,000 cases, still waiting to be heard, and the Republicans want to repeal that law, anyway. On the far Right, one of the conspiracy theories floating around is that the goat-headed Marxist Kenyan Muslim antichrist Obama is bringing them here intentionally, to force Republicans to compromise on immigration reform. I know, just as we thought we’d heard it all. Just as nutty was Mitt Romney during the 2012 campaign, suggesting that illegal immigrants “self-deport.” The Romney family were immigrants from England to Virginia in 1635. I wish Mitt would self-deport.
For decades, American foreign policy in Central and South America has been to overthrow democratically elected governments we see as a little too far to the left, and supplanting them with brutal right-wing dictatorships. They’re much more “business friendly.” If the political will were there, Congress and the State Department could easily suspend all foreign aid to those governments until they clean up the drug gangs and death squads. That’s not very likely, because of systemic corruption, both in those governments and our own.
“The Children’s Crusade” is the subtitle of Slaughterhouse Five, a superb novel by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. It’s a reference to the real children’s crusade, two actually, in 1212. It was shortly after the 4th Crusade failed. Each of these groups had absolute faith in their mission, and that God would protect them. One collection of children, left Vendome, France, intending to march to Jerusalem and free the Holy City from the fundamentalist Muslims. Led by 12-year-old Steven of Cloyes, they walked 400 or so miles south to Marseilles, and who knows how many were lost along the way. There they boarded seven boats, and were never heard from again. There were rumors that pirates had captured the ships, but no one really knows. The other group of innocents, some 20,000 including women, set out from Germany. They made their way across the Alps, many dying of exposure, and eventually arrived in Rome and met with the Pope. In a cruel irony, the pontiff at the time was Pope Innocent III. He thanked them for their efforts, but told them this was no job for children, and sent them home. Many more died on the way back. I keep wondering, how do you feed an army this size?
The innocents coming from Central America have no such lofty ambitions. They just want to be safe. A great many cross the border at checkpoints, so they’ll be caught. These children have been raped, beaten, abused, have witnessed murders and seen dead bodies, and their lives were in constant danger. Most have a parent or relative here that they hope to find. During the first week of July, as we Americans celebrate our independence, some busloads of refugees were coming into Murietta, CA. They were stopped and turned back by a horde of protesters, shouting “Nobody wants you! You’re not welcome here! Go Home!” I don’t think Sitting Bull could have said it better. One woman held up a sign: “Not Our Children — Not Our Problem.” Now I’m sure these deviants are good, God-fearing Christians who attend church regularly. And it’s obvious that these descendants of immigrants are patriotic, by the number of flags they’re waving. Every time I think my fellow Americans couldn’t possibly get uglier or more bigoted, they manage to lower the bar yet again. Well, there you go, kiddies. Welcome to the land of the free and the home of the brave, the beacon of liberty, that shining city on the hill. This is what’s known as a teachable moment. Surely we can’t get any meaner or ignorant, right? Read on.
Adam Kwasman, an Arizona Republican running in the primary to square off against sitting U.S. Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick, was speaking at such a rally in Oracle, AZ, when he heard someone shout, “There’s a busload of refugees coming into town!” He tweeted: “Bus is coming. This is not compassion. This is abrogation of the rule of law.” He joined the mob blocking the bus, and was telling a news reporter he could see the fear in these children’s eyes. The reporter asked, “Are you aware that these are YMCA campers?” Kwasman immediately launched into a Michael Jackson style moonwalk, explaining that he’d just got here, or was just leaving, blah blah blah.
I’ve never had children, so let me ask you parents, you mothers and fathers, a question: How bad would things have to get for you to send your own child on a long and dangerous journey such as this, knowing they could easily fall prey to rape, slavery or even murder? I find it difficult even to imagine such a situation.
These children are not the problem, but the symptom. America seems stuck in the rut of treating the symptom rather than the cause, and we can see it in everything from medicine to foreign policy to law enforcement (especially with drug offenses). On July 18th, the day after that Malaysian passenger jet was shot down over the Ukraine, President Obama was making his obligatory statement about the tragedy. At one point he said, “Nations have the right to determine their own destiny.” I was thinking, is he really that delusional, or was he making a joke of some kind? Tell that to the Iraqis, Mr. President. Tell it to the Afghan people (or Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, and Chile in 1973, to mention a few). If the United States had allowed these and so many other South and Central American nations to determine their own destinies, these children would not be here at all.
As for some of these alleged Christians, they might do well to get their noses out of Leviticus and Deuteronomy, and into a little Matthew:
And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.
— Matthew 16: 5-6