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Migrant children: Innocent victims of the U.S. war on drugs

Marian Wright Edelman | 8/18/2014, 10:24 a.m.
Bishop Minerva Carcaño, the Los Angeles area resident bishop of the United Methodist Church, is acting with urgency. Along with ...
Marian Wright Edelman

(NNPA ) – Bishop Minerva Carcaño, the Los Angeles area resident bishop of the United Methodist Church, is acting with urgency. Along with more than 100 other religious leaders and activists, she was arrested for civil disobedience at the White House for protesting the deportation of the unaccompanied children crossing our border after fleeing from the brutal violence and poverty of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

A few days earlier, she visited Port Hueneme Naval Base in Oxnard, California, for the second time and met some of the hundreds of migrant children temporarily housed there. Joining her this time were Bishop J. Jon Bruno of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, Robert Ross of the California Endowment and Fred Ali of the Weingart Foundation.

Referring to her first visit to Port Hueneme, she said, “The naval base has been turned into a holding site for these children, and it was to capacity with 575 children and young people between the ages of 13 and 17, and they’ve all been through horrific experiences. Many of the girls have experienced sexual assaults, and some of them have been raped … If you ask them what the prayer in their heart is, they’ll tell you immediately, with a sense of faith, that indeed it’s going to happen – and their prayer is that God will give them life.”

Carcaño spoke to the Children’s Defense Fund’s Samuel DeWitt Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry at CDF Haley Farm in mid-July about the humanitarian crisis of thousands of desperate children crossing our border. The details are haunting: An unaccompanied toddler being cared for by little girls sitting in a locked cell for 12 days. A grandmother with three little granddaughters who a gang had threatened to take if she didn’t pay more than $20,000.

Nearly 60,000 unaccompanied children traveling alone. They are in many ways the latest innocent victims of the U.S. war on drugs. Even as the U.S. worked with Mexico and Colombia to close down the drug cartels and gangs there, the massive market for illegal drugs here in our nation has remained. To feed our illegal drug habit, the drug lords and vicious gangs have moved operations and created unprecedented levels of violence in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Now these essentially lawless countries have become some of the most dangerous places on the planet.

Part of the solution may rest with the faith community here and abroad. I am encouraged to see the coming together of many faiths in McAllen, Texas, to respond to the crisis in their city. But this crisis needs a compassionate response from every city and our entire nation. I shudder when I see the angry outbursts about these helpless children coming from some communities.

The best solution, as always for children, is to reunite them with their families whenever and as soon as possible. Of the nearly 60,000 unaccompanied children who have crossed the border since October, it is reported that nearly 50,000 of them have been released to sponsors or family members, sometimes even to a parent already living in the U.S. The continuing horror is for those children being kept in detention like those Carcaño keeps visiting.