Embarrassing, isn’t it, that so few of us know what in the world has caused the sudden explosion of undocumented children presenting themselves on our southern border. Embarrassing, isn’t it, that when we learn their countries of origin so few of us can point to those countries on a map, let alone name the capitals, their presidents, much of anything about them except that the children from those countries who have shown up look very much like “Mexicans” we see in local service jobs and in Arizona detention centers. How few of us remember studying the Central and South American chapters of “The History of the Western Hemisphere.” (Was that class even offered anywhere?) Embarrassing, isn’t it, that so many of us can’t understand why these children are being called “refugees” by people like the pope, the head of UN Refugee Services, Catholic and other charities, and even some politicians. Refugees? The U.S. doesn’t, shouldn’t, would never have a huge refugee problem! We leave that to the far-away others in this world. Embarrassing, isn’t it, that so few of us know what happened to 4 million Iraqis who became refugees after the U.S. invasion in 2003. Not embarrassing? We don’t really care? Let Jordan, Syria (embarrassing that Iraqi refugees in Syria are now at a loss to know where to go next), the other Middle Eastern countries take care of them. Just don’t ship them here.
Embarrassing that so few of us understand our very real connection to the new children-surge from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala; that murderous narco-gangs have moved to those already homicide-leading countries to recruit “children and women mules” to transport drugs, to eliminate government and community opposition, to extort money from families, to establish gang empires in poor, weak countries. Their problem? No, our problem! We are the major export group, the customers of the powerful narco-leaders. Our users demand that the drug trafficking continue. Our communities, though often devastated at least on an individual family level by drug use and crime, overdoses, deaths, look the other way and refuse to connect the dots. Too painful. Too much work. Not in my backyard. And then there’s the poverty thing. The guilty countries are among the poorest in the world. We don’t want any more poor people, do we? Please suspend that foolishly idealistic Statue of Liberty inscription,
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
Instead, we decide that there is a conspiracy to send these Central American children to our borders to take our jobs, to vote (note to polling places: Please check the ID of a potential voter who appears to be under 12), to crowd our schools, to get free medicine and food, to become one of those “takers” about whom we so often hear. And so, embarrassingly, some of us show up at possible refugee housing sites to yell, intimidate, wave signs and refuse temporary shelter. What is going on? What have we forgotten about our moral principles? Or did we ever really believe in them?
Embarrassing that often we are so lacking in curiosity, so intellectually lazy, so unwilling to view ourselves as part of a world community much of which is suffering and sometimes because of decisions made in the U.S. As for me, I’m with the pope on this one.
Answers to the geopolitical questions:
• Honduras capital is Tegucigalpa; President Hernandez.
• Guatemala capital is Guatemala City; President Molina.
• El Salvador capital is San Salvador; President Ceren.