Monday, June 16, 2014


For at least three years, the number of unaccompanied minors trying to cross the border into the United States has increased dramatically.

But why?

Some contend that the policies of the current Administration are sending a "message" throughout Mexico and Central America that minors coming to this country on their own can be given a special asylum or sent to relatives living in this country.

But that's not what is driving this new surge of unaccompanied minors.  These minors are fleeing horrific conditions in their countries of origin--especially El Salvador and Honduras.  These minors are not coming because they want to leave their homes.  Rather, they are leaving because of two very real problems facing them:  incredible threats against their lives, and hopeless living and working conditions.

These young people tell us clearly that the reach of gangs and the drug cartels has reached deeply into their countries, and that they are faced with incredible decisions:  either join a gang and get shot by a rival gang, or refuse to join a gang and get shot by that gang; or do nothing, and get swept up into the quagmire of the drug cartels.  No hope, no future.  This is what is propelling the departure of these minors across Central America towards the United States.  Sheer desperation.

These problems are not of our making, and their home countries have the primary responsibility for their safety, education, and employment.  However, the political and economic chaos in these countries means that none of these possibilities is available to them.

They feel they have nothing to lose, and set out on a perilous journey in which death and injury are so real.  They pay exorbitant fees to "coyotes" to escort them to the USA.  But most of the time, the coyotes dump them along the way, pocket thousands of dollars, and leave the minors at the mercy of many criminal elements.

Our government needs to prod the Central America countries to take primary responsibility for their citizens, especially the youth, and to find ways for them to remain home, get an education, and find gainful employment.  Sadly, the corruption and instability of these countries makes it virtually impossible for any change in the near future.

So, these children and youth set out on perilous journeys seeking a new life and a new future.

Is this "our problem"?  In the strict sense, no.  But we are a country which offers opportunity for the poor and the deprived, so we should not be surprised that they are coming to us.

The best response would be for our country to pass a comprehensive immigration reform package which will  bring some new order to our antiquated and chaotic immigration system.  Because we have so many jobs available in the low-skill and low-income categories, we have become a magnet for such desperate young people.  Especially since other Americans will not take these jobs, regardless of the salary.

The numbers of unaccompanied minors is a sad commentary on the sending countries.  But as a nation of immigrants, we are compelled to find a way to reunite these minors with parents living in this country.

Sadly, our country's response has been with platitudes and inaction.  We are now reaping the harvest of this inaction.

Jesus told us very clearly:  "I was a stranger, and you welcomed me."  May that continue to be our call and challenge.