“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter” -MLK Jr.
When I see the migrant families being detained and separated at the border, I can’t help but be reminded that the only thing that separates me from them is opportunity. We often take many opportunities for granted: the opportunity to study, to have a dignifying job, the opportunity to live in a safe community— we don’t think or thank God for our opportunities nearly enough.
The truth is that for many living in the Northern Triangle of Central America (Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras) these opportunities we consider basic, are a luxury. The region has the highest rates of homicide and criminal violence in the world: homicides, gang rapes, assaults, hearing gunshots when walking down the street—that becomes the new normal. On top of that, extortions, intimidation, and bribes make economic advancement almost impossible for vulnerable communities. The choice of leaving your home country is not an easy one, but when your life or your child’s life is on the line, it doesn’t even seem that much of a choice at all.
This is why thousands of migrants are willing to embark on a tough journey and to endure criminality, abuse, and discrimination: to have an opportunity. An opportunity to work and give their children a dignified, safe life. The journey across Mexico to get to the US is physically and emotionally crushing. Migrants face all kinds of obstacles, including extreme temperatures, water and food scarcity, physical and sexual abuse, and traffickers eager to take advantage of their vulnerability. What we don’t often hear is that many of them don’t make it to the US: out of approx. 300,000 people who flee the Northern Triangle every year, less than 10% actually enter the US.
There is not an expectation that migrating and seeking to start a new life in the US will be easy, but separating asylum-seeking families was an unnecessary act of cruelty. Putting asylum-seekers in cages and giving children foil blankets was humiliating. The separation and abuse were incredibly traumatizing for children and their parents. Family separation is a way to continue to kick down those who are already on the ground. It is robbing them of the hope of opportunity, and for parents, is separating them from the reason why they chose to endure all of the hardship in the first place: their children. This is neither humane nor effective. How we react to this crisis will set a precedent in how we treat the vulnerable around the world.
We all deserve an opportunity. This is not about politics, but about humanity and decency. We need to treat Central American migrants with the same compassion we treat refugees. Because they ARE refugees. The type of violence they are escaping from might look different than war zone violence, but it is equally brutal and equally relentless.
What can you do to help migrant families? Right now, the main concern is to reunite the children with their parents and providing legal services to unaccompanied children.
Why is legal protection for children important? These children are fleeing extreme violence – access to legal relief in the US is the difference between the opportunity of having a safe childhood or being deported / never being able to be reunited with their parents.
Below are some organizations doing amazing work that you can support.
KIND (Kids In Need of Defense)
KIND staff + pro bono attorney partners at law firms, corporations, and law schools nationwide represent unaccompanied immigrant and refugee children in their deportation proceedings. website | donate
ASAP (Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project)
Al Otro Lado
Mennonite Central Committee (MCC)
An opportunity to learn more by visiting Central America is possible with MCC from November 7-17. website