Unaccompanied children from Central and South America have entered the United States by the tens of thousands, and more are on their way. Many of these young people flee extreme poverty and violence in their home countries and suffer through a horrific experience of trafficking and abuse; and upon reaching the United States, they encounter self-described pro-life policymakers scrambling to produce legislation that would expedite their deportation process and promptly repatriate them in their homelands plagued by corporeal and economic insecurity. We must ask these members of Congress, how can one be pro-life yet fail to protect the lives of these young, unaccompanied, vulnerable foreigners?
As these unaccompanied children are from countries not contiguous with the United States, legislation demands that specific actions take place to address their particular plight. To prevent exploitation by human traffickers and protect children who fear returning to their country of nationality, the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (TVPRA) requires Customs and Border Enforcement to process and transfer these children to the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) within 48 or 72 hours, depending on the case. With HHS, further processing takes place, ongoing assistance through social welfare agencies is provided, and housing accommodations are made as legal proceedings are prepared for and eventually take place.
Instead of championing a law designed to protect the lives of children, dozens of Republican House members are trying to pass an amendment to the TVPRA in order to more quickly deport, or, as they say, repatriate, these young people. (See H.R. 5053 and 5079.) These Republicans discredit the fear and insecurity of these youth and, via prompt deportations, want to send a strong message to Central and South American families discouraging them from wasting their resources on coyotes (smugglers) and from risking the lives of their children in sending them to the United States. Upon arrival, they are to be turned away.
In order to see the deportation process as contra-life, Republicans would first have to see that the circumstances in, for example, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador as threatening to life. The faintest of memories would help Americans recall that Americans’ military and economic intervention has played quite the role in aiding the development of such dire situations. Truly, as America has done in Mexico with the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Central American Free Trade Agreement fails to protect the interests of the poor and vulnerable domestically and abroad.
Our inconsiderate policies further diminish the hope of many Latin Americans and support a system in which the poor, refusing to bend to the might of U.S. transnational corporations, often see as their last opportunities for a decent life, a) participation in drug and violence centered criminal activity, or b) the acceptance of all risks present in fleeing to the United States. As Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, recently wrote in a July 24 letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, “We must recognize that there are correlations between these harmful trade practices and the deplorable conditions that lead to poverty, increased unemployment (especially among the young), violence, trafficking and the resultant push for migration.”
With our economic policies and military might, we have condemned the poor of Latin America to an inhumane life of extreme poverty and insecurity, and continue to reinforce a border, stronger than the gates of hell, so that no thing, with the exception of knowledge, merchandise, and the rich, can escape. We can call this action the passive economic genocide of the poor.
The war against the weak, where the poor, especially, are subject to commodification and discarding, must end. It is inexcusable for lawmakers and the citizens of a country of abundant resources, such as the United States, to fail to receive the poor and vulnerable foreigners seeking refuge in this country. It is foolish and immoral for us to neglect admitting our responsibility in helping to breed death-favoring circumstances in southern countries alongside refusing to make just corrections to our trade agreements and foreign policies in order to protect the life-robbing interest of corporations.
Pope Francis wrote concerning the tens of thousands of children “who migrate alone, unaccompanied, to escape poverty and violence”:
Photo by: Sgt. 1st Class Gordon Hyde. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.