By Mike Appleton, Weekend Contributor
“Taking a child he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it he said to them, ‘Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me, but the one who sent me.’ “
-Gospel of Mark, Ch. 9, verses 36-37, New American Bible (Thomas Nelson, 1989)
“If kids come in my backyard, I’ll shoot them.”
-unidentified Murietta, California resident protesting the sheltering of undocumented child immigrants (July 1, 2014)
“Collective fear,” wrote Bertrand Russell, “stimulates herd instinct, and tends to produce ferocity toward those who are not regarded as members of the herd.” The ugliness in Murietta, California several weeks ago provided ample evidence, if any were needed, of the power of collective fear. But even more disturbing than the angry shouts at frightened children unable even to understand the words hurled at them has been the reaction of political leaders. Appearing on Fox News Sunday, Gov. Rick Perry demanded that the President dispatch National Guard troops to the border, for who knows what purpose. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R. Texas) has been even more vocal. Most of you may recall Rep. Gohmert’s rants several years ago about “anchor babies” born in the United States to be trained as terrorists. This time around he is claiming that the Administration is encouraging the influx of unaccompanied children as part of a plot to turn America “blue” and “ensure Republicans will never get elected again.” Of course, that will require that all of these tens of thousands of children survive the various diseases with which he also claims them to be infected and carrying over the border. Rep. Gohmert could be dismissed as another congressional crackpot but for the fact that he currently serves as vice chair of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security.
Fear-mongering is such an emotionally powerful tool that it is readily grasped by nascent politicians to fast-track their own careers. Several days ago one Adam Kwasman, a Republican running for Congress in Arizona, made headlines when he photographed a bus full of children and tweeted it to his supporters with the caption, “Bus coming in. This is not compassion. This is the abrogation of the rule of law.” Twitter is a social medium particularly well-suited for those adept at making fools of themselves in fewer than 140 characters. In a follow-up interview with a local reporter, Mr. Kwasman even described “the fear” he witnessed in the eyes of the children as the bus passed, only to later learn that what he had actually observed was what I, as a sometime camp counselor, call Camp Grenada Syndrome, the anxiety universally experienced by kids on their first trip to summer camp, this one run by the YMCA.
Assuming that the over 50,000 (to date) unaccompanied minors surrendering to the Border Patrol are not junior members of the Central America branch of the Young Democrats, why have they come? Well, has anyone been to Honduras or Guatemala or El Salvador lately? Those three countries, known collectively as the Northern Triangle, occupy three of the top five spots on the list of countries with the worst homicide statistics. Honduras leads the pack, with 90.4 murders per 100,000 persons. In Guatemala, over 300,000 children, fully 11% of those between the ages of 7 and 13, work, 21% of them in dangerous jobs, and are subjected to exploitation by organized crime in the sexual tourism and pornography industries. The homicide rate in El Salvador doubled between 2003 and 2011, and rose 44% in the first quarter of 2014 over the same period a year ago. To put this in further perspective, Latin America is home to 9% of the world’s population, and suffers 31% of the world’s murders.
The governments of these countries are weak and riddled with incompetence and corruption. Efrain Rios Montt, the former head of state in Guatemala, was convicted last year of genocide and crimes against humanity for atrocities committed against his own civilian population. But his conviction has been overturned and he faces a new trial early next year. The State Department has issued travel warnings for Honduras. And it is clear that much of the drug trafficking and gang warfare in the Northern Triangle is a direct result of the shifting of the drug trade from countries, such as Mexico and Columbia, in which the war on drugs has been particularly intense. It has also been argued that much of the instability in that part of the world is a legacy of United Fruit diplomacy and U.S. support of corrupt military dictatorships in Central America over many decades.
But regardless of the historical explanations for the problems plaguing these countries, how can any rational person fail to understand the desire of poor and desperate parents to protect their children from the violence and terror they daily face? How can any rational person not marvel at a parental love so powerful that it compels mothers and fathers to send their children on a lonely, dangerous journey? And who is honestly surprised that people gripped by fear and despair will believe the lies of the coyotes who promise, for a price, to deliver their children to the safety of the United States?
In 2008 Congress passed, and Pres. Bush signed, the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, named for the British MP who devoted much of his political career to the abolition of the slave trade in England. A portion of the Act establishes procedures for the processing and repatriation of “unaccompanied alien children” who come into the United States. In general, the Act requires that a minor child from a country that is not contiguous to the United States is to be transferred to the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services and placed “in the least restrictive setting that is in the best interest of the child” pending a determination of whether the child should be repatriated or granted refugee status. The Act affords such children what we as a nation believe essential to minimum due process-the right to a hearing and the right to counsel. 8 USC 1232 (2014). But the sheer numbers of children now in the country have overwhelmed the available resources. And, of course, it is all the fault of the Administration.
In one of the videos of the Murietta protests, a woman can be seen shouting, “Not our children. Not our problem.” In Vassar, Michigan, two weeks later, demonstrators, two carrying semi-automatic rifles, assembled in front of a social services facility selected to provide temporary housing for some of the children. The organizer of the protest, Tamyra Murray, was quoted as saying, “We must save America and stand up against this invasion.” Collective fear at work, one rope short of a lynch mob.
Nevertheless, I do not believe that the woman in Murietta, California or Ms. Murray in Vassar, Michigan truly believe what they are saying. If they do, they are wrong. It has also been suggested that this humanitarian crisis is Pres. Obama’s Katrina. That is also wrong. Hurricane Katrina was our Katrina, just as Hurricane Sandy was our Sandy. And these children, at least for now, are our children. While they are here, they deserve to be treated as part of the herd.
Sources: Bertrand Russell, Unpopular Essays (Simon & Schuster, 1950); “El Salvador Grapples With Upswing In Drug Traffic,” http://www.npr.org (May 31, 2011); “El Salvador murder rate up 44% as gang truce falters,” http://www.irishtimes.com (April 4, 2014); U.S. Department of State, “El Salvador 2013 Crimes and Safety Report,” http://www.osac.gov/pages/contentReportDetails.aspx?cid=13875; “Murders in El Salvador spike to record high for May,” http://www.mobile.reuters.com (May 26, 2014); “Honduras, Central America still lead the world in murder rates,” http://www.ticotimes.net (April 14, 2014); Human Rights Watch, “Honduras still # 1 in 2013,” http://www.m.hrw.org/world-report/2014; “Federal Agents With Riot Gear Arriving In Murietta To Subdue Immigration Protesters,” http://www.dailycaller.com (July 6, 2014); “Gohmert: Obama Is Flooding Texas With Immigrants To ‘Turn It Blue,’ ” http://www.breitbart.com (July 7, 2014); “Murietta Residents: Obama Admin Flooding Our Streets to Force ‘Immigration Reform,’ ” http://www.breitbart.com (July 8, 2014); “Murietta immigration debate: Should they stay or should they go?” http://www.america.aljazeera.com (July 11, 2014); Francis X. Donnelly, “Possible housing of Central American children meets with protest in small Michigan town,” The Detroit News (July 14, 2014); Igor Bobic, “GOP Candidate Mistakes YMCA Kids For Migrants, Describes ‘Fear In Their Faces,’ ” The Huffington Post (July 16, 2014).
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