“They are our children now.” A simple message on a sign in Murrieta, California, a quiet sentiment in the deafening crowd of angry demonstrators.
Protestors yelling “Send them home!"
"Them": some of the unaccompanied minors fleeing Central America for the U.S.
Three weeks ago I spoke about the thousands of minors from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala illegally crossing the U.S. border. An alarming situation has now exploded into a full blown humanitarian crisis and a political quagmire. What was a steady stream has become a flood of undocumented children rushing over the border. President Obama has doubled his original request for emergency funds to beef up border security and care for the migrant children. In the meantime, the U.S. Border Patrol has fashioned a stopgap measure: packing the minors into buses and planes and shipping them to holding facilities in Texas and California.
The small town of Murrieta became a lightning rod after the mayor made it clear that his town would not house this new influx of undocumented migrants. His defiance stirred spontaneous anti-immigrant protests. Residents blocked three buses of detained children at the local holding facility forcing a rerouting to other facilities.
For Bostonians of a certain age, these images are reminiscent of another time, 40 years ago, when mobs gathered to protest the court ordered desegregation plan. Back then, screaming adults also positioned themselves in the path of buses filled with black students on their way to the city’s all-white schools. An ugly picture indelibly written into Boston’s history.
And the irony is the anti-immigrant protestors and congressional lawmakers are helping to create exactly what they don’t want. Note to the anti-immigrant protestors: blocking access to the holding facilities slows down the necessary first step in sending the minors back home. As for lawmakers who claim immigration reform is amnesty, doing nothing practically guarantees that a projected 50,000 undocumented minors will get lost in the backlogged deportation process, and become part of the 11 million undocumented families and children already in the shadows.
Americans, whatever their views on immigration, know this is not a workable solution. While president Obama pleads for humanitarian aid and talks about border security, the children keep coming.
An advocate of the California Immigrant Youth Alliance says they are afraid for their lives. I fear the crammed holding facilities put them in danger of the same conditions from which they fled — abuse, rape, and even random killing. Whether we like it or not, their lives are in our hands, because they are our children now.
Callie Crossley is the host of Under the Radar.