I was on Facebook this morning (surprise-surprise) and saw something that really disturbed me. Recently there have been news stories about how children are being separated from their illegal immigrant parents who are being deported. The stories said the children were being held in cages.
I’m certainly not one to believe everything I read or even the statements from our politicians, such as my own U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley who visited a holding facility. So, I went to the mainstream media and I picked a story from the more conservative Washington Times. Here is a snippet from that story:
“While we can’t corroborate Merkley’s claim that he saw ‘hundreds’ of children in these chain-link fence enclosures, it seems clear from the photographs we found that Customs and Border Protection does hold children in fenced enclosures at the McAllen facility. Trump administration representatives did not deny this.
“‘These short-term facilities do not employ the use of ‘cages’ to house UACs (unaccompanied alien children), but portions of the facility make use of barriers in order to separate minors of different genders and age group,’ an administration official said. ‘This is for the safety and security of all minors in the custody of the United States government.’”
The story goes on to say that the kids only are there for three days and then transferred to the local foster care system.
In other words, they don’t like the word “cage” so they’re using the euphemism “fenced enclosures.”
I’m a pretty conservative guy, but this is troubling.
When I saw the pictures, some thoughts flooded my mind. First, I couldn’t help but think of the Japanese families that were interned after the attack on Pearl Harbor during World War II. If you are too young to know about that, the United States basically imprisoned Japanese Americans believing them to be a potential threat to the nation after the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor which brought the US into the war. I have had the pleasure of meeting several of these families over the years as I helped Japanese American veterans of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team with their veteran benefits. The 442nd was an all-Japanese unit that served in Europe during the war made up of the young men whose families were interned. Their stories of discrimination during and after the war are heartbreaking.
Then I thought about the psychological damage such treatment does to a kid. Having grown up in the foster care system myself, living in a dozen different homes and being separate from my family over and over again, not only do I have a little experience with this, but I think I have the moral authority to talk about it.
All the studies clearly state that separating kids from their parents and family causes a trauma called abandonment syndrome which exhibit the following symptoms:
· Intrusive, debilitating anxiety
· Chronic feelings of insecurity
· Chronic depression
· Feelings of loss of control over life
· Obsessive thinking and intrusive thought about the abandonment
Having lived with this kind of trauma in my own life, I would never want any kid to have to go through this, especially at the hands of the government! This is a life-long psychological trauma for which all these children will need counseling and perhaps even medication because the anxiety and chronic depression also leads to suicidal ideation.
My last thought was this: Come on, certainly we can do better than this!
As stated in the news articles, this policy did not originate under the current administration; the Obama administration also used “fenced enclosures” for these children. I get the problem – the numbers are staggering! According the Times article, between October 2017 and April of this year, 49,622 family units have been detained at the US/Mexico border. There were 26,001 unaccompanied minors! What in the world do you do with that massive a crush of humanity?
Our government’s answer apparently is create holding facilities like the one Merkley visited that can hold up to 1,000 kids.
As a Christian, my answer might be a bit different.
I don’t have a lot of sympathy for adults who cross our border illegally; there is a process for coming into a nation which they should honor. Scripturally, Israel took in the foreigner because they, too, were once foreigners (Leviticus 19:34; Leviticus 24:22), but those foreigners were expected to fully integrate into the nation (Isaiah 14:1; Exodus 12:48; Ruth 1:16). They didn’t get to keep their same gods, customs, or culture. They assimilated similarly to how early immigration to America naturally occurred.
But children are different. They are innocents; they are vulnerable; they are – well – children!
Given the massive numbers, we need a massive response – we need to build a suitable immigrant base where these children can be treated like children instead of criminals.
I served in the military and have seen some accommodations that while not the Hilton are suitable that could include open-bay barracks, such as the Marine Corps have used in the past. They could include other barracks models as well. Separate the kids by age and gender appropriately and provide the necessary supervision that includes trauma care. There is no reason in the world to keep kids in cages! They’re already traumatized so why re-traumatize them by this incarceration process?
As Christians, scripture is really clear on our responsibility to the foreigner. Exodus 22:21 directs us in this way, “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him; you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Deuteronomy 10:18 tells us the Lord loves foreigners, “He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and He shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing.”
It’s so easy to dehumanize the situation – even calling these children UACs instead of kids. It’s a typical psychological response to distance yourself from the personal responsibility of treating people differently or even badly! But these are kids. Simply youngsters caught up in something they may not even understand. We have to do better.
I’m not saying let them stay in the country just because they’re kids. But I am saying that the Christian body should stand up in one voice and tell our government that it is not okay to treat the foreigner in this way.
There is no easy answer to the immigration question. Some say just give all the current illegal immigrant amnesty. The other end of the spectrum says deport all the illegal immigrants. The answer, like all answers, is not so simple and probably lies somewhere in the middle. I am certainly not smart enough to figure it out. But I do know this: We must love our neighbors, and even if we are detaining them for illegal entry into this country, we must treat them with respect and dignity – as we ourselves would want to be treated. It’s not okay to traumatize these children – we can and should do better than this!