Immigration: “We Are Better Than This”

Immigration: “We Are Better Than This”

A warehouse full of children. An air conditioned warehouse full of children with concrete floors, no beds, only two scratchy wool blankets. An air conditioned warehouse full of cold, anxious children with too few adults to care for them – children sleeping on concrete floors who have not been given clean clothing or a chance to shower or even a bar of soap, a towel, and a toothbrush. Does any of this sound like America to you? But it is happening in America. It is happening right now in America.

We have a President who has told us that the people coming across our southern border are animals. Do you believe that he is telling the truth? Are these people dangerous? Are they less than human? Why are they coming? The President thinks it is a planned challenge to his immigration policies, that Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador (the Northern Triangle countries) are “pranking” him somehow. Reporters who have visited these three nations tell a different story however. They tell a story about a once fertile triangle of farm land shared by these three nations. They tell us that the land is no longer fertile because the rainfall, once predictable, is now erratic. There are long periods of dry weather in recent years followed by too much rain all at once. This disruption in the usual water cycle could be temporary, but it could be due to climate change. The area is also threatened by gangs of men who snatch girls for trafficking purposes or for their own use and who snatch young men to increase memberships. These gangs are at war with each other and innocent citizens are killed in the ensuing violence.

People usually love the country they were born in. They don’t want to leave it. If large numbers of people are migrating from one country to another country far away there is always a reason for it. People migrate when their home nation cannot offer enough food, or enough safety, or any opportunities for a better life. People of means may travel out of a sense of adventure, or to broaden their experiences, to enjoy other cultures and the beauty of foreign places. However, unless they stumble into a place they know is unstable and hostile, tourists do not end up sleeping in warehouses with concrete floors. And neither should people who are seeking asylum from a nation that no longer offers a viable life to its people.

We cannot solve problems that arise from climate change, especially with an administration in charge of America that does not believe in climate change. But offering aid to a nation in need is something that we do know how to do. We cannot get rid of local gangs. We are not even doing well with keeping our own gangs under control. But we do know that when people are offered opportunities to learn a trade or get a college degree and find employment violence tends to decrease and the influence of gangs declines.  Aid can also be perceived to be nation building, can be seen as imperialistic interference done for personal gain rather than altruism, so the way help is offered matters. While giving aid it is not polite to see what resources you can steal from a nation that is suffering.

If one way to tackle the flow of migrants is to improve the conditions in the home nations, another way is to streamline our procedures for handling migration when it happens. Denying migrants access to the laws that govern immigration does not seem to stop people from immigrating. Separating children from parents does not seem to discourage the flow of immigration. Denying children showers and soap and toothbrushes may make them miserable but it doesn’t make them disappear (unless they die). Is that the plan? To let squalor do its work. Is that a plan Americans can live with?

“We are better than this.” Whenever I listen to panels of experts talk on my news channel (MSNBC) someone always says this. We can do better than taking children who came here with a parent or who have a contact who is a relative already in America, than housing them in a cold soulless shelter, leaving them in wet diapers and dirty clothing, allowing them to live with lice, and sending them to bed hungry with only a scratchy blanket for company. We are America. We are organized. We are humane. We are a can-do nation. If the system is overwhelmed then hire more people. Warehouse supplies, not people. Better yet, don’t detain children at all. Set to work immediately getting them to their destination if they have one, or finding them a family to act as a temporary sponsor.

What the President would like to do is immediately deport them, but the law says they have a right to a hearing. He says that if they are released with a hearing date they will not return. Statistics say that the return rate is really good for adults. How do you give a hearing to a toddler who may be nonverbal? Applying the same practices for children that we have for adults makes no sense. HHS (Housing and Human Services) is full of experts in the care of displaced children. They should be called upon to suggest ways to handle minors separated from parents or guardians. Many experts have been making valid suggestions without getting much attention.

The chaos we are seeing in the immigration system is due to this administration’s attempts to solve the problem by circumventing immigration laws, in other words by using approaches that are lawless, approaches for which there are no precedents and no organizational plans. Orders are given and they must be accomplished although no resources are offered to accomplish what the administration wants. If everyone is to be sent back home why aren’t they loaded immediately onto planes? Because no logistics have been designed to make this possible. So migrants seeking asylum are caught between a rock and a government-engineered hard place and they cannot solve their own dilemma. But we can. “We are better than this.”

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – The Cut






Sitting Ducks

I am worried that we will grieve for Aurora, Colorado and then move on, as we do, to life as usual. It’s not that I want us to dwell on our sorrow; but I don’t want us to live in denial about this disturbing aspect of modern culture.

All cultures in all ages have experienced both peace and killing. It’s not as if longing for safety and stability, yet living with uncertainty is anything new. Some cultures have been able, however, to offer long periods of peaceful prosperity. Our culture has not always existed without violence. We have been at odds a number of times in our short history. We fought over slavery, we fought over labor unions, we fought about civil rights, and we are in the midst of a non-violent fight about what our American policies and our government and our society will be like in the near future. We have also experienced times of unity and national productivity.
But the kind of violence represented by incidents like shopping mall shootings and Columbine and now Aurora represent a new sort of violence. This violence does not seem to arise from ideological disagreements or even imperialist tendencies. It is an expression of personal deviation and alienation. It is also, in a sense, an expression of egoism. It is cold-blooded and has a quality of unreality about it, as if the person is not killing real people, as if the person is shooting targets. The very randomness of it and the fact that it does not involve any one-on-one confrontation between killer and victim, or any political motivation, separates it from the modus operandi of most serial murderers.
Since we don’t know how to protect ourselves from such attacks (short of carrying a gun and shooting back, which, so far, has not happened and is, apparently, problematic) we just take a pause to mourn, recognize that we are probably not happy with what is going on, and then shake it off and go back to living normally. There must be some things we can do however. Our Constitution does give us the right to bear arms, but if you go back to the times when the Constitution was written and think about why our forefathers put this in the document, I think that you would not have a problem limiting the ability to buy or own semi-automatic and assault weapons. 
Why aren’t groups of experts meeting to work on identifying and helping people who are in denial about psychological problems? There must be some approaches we could take that would not affect those who are managing their mental issues well. Why are we sitting tight with our fatalism and our denial, our ‘this-probably-won’t-happen-to-me’ rationalization? Why are we not calling for some kind of study and some plan of action? We are Americans. We believe problems can be solved if we put our minds and hearts to it yet we have let America’s children kill each other in our cities and suburbs, and we have accepted mass killings. We have come up with a few approaches especially in the area of urban violence and some have been somewhat successful and some have been dismal failures.
Has anyone in an appropriate field of study kept track of these approaches, made a collection of what has worked and what hasn’t? Is there a body of work about this? All I hear is the same speculation that is offered each time we encounter this disturbing new aberration. We hear an outcry about gun control, we hear that the person may not qualify as insane (what does it take to qualify), we hear that TV, movies, and video games are too violent and then we move on. As we move on another erratic individual decides that s/he (a theoretical she) will take a stab at putting together the perfect mass killing. Well James Holmes has set the bar pretty high. Can we expect escalation? I am sure we can find better ways to help our young people, both those involved in “gang” warfare and those committing crimes of alienation. Helping those who have already been in the system should be even easier. Let’s have some conferences where experts meet to devise some strategies. Let’s not just act like sitting ducks.