The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. –Leviticus 19:34
The family lived in constant fear. They didn’t dare go out at night when roving gangs controlled the roads. Trips to the market by day were occasionally interrupted by the chaos of gunshots too close to ignore.
Two members of their family had been killed in the past year. This was not unusual among the families in their neighborhood. The police seemed powerless. The sight of soldiers elicited as much fear as the gangs.
The government kept saying they were making things better, but the robberies, home invasions, rapes and extortion continued. It seemed hopeless.
So they left behind the only home they had ever known. They didn’t tell their friends they were leaving in case someone accidentally tipped off the authorities.
They crossed hundreds of miles of difficult terrain, mostly on foot. The hot sun of the day and cold breezes of the night were difficult to bear. They waded through rivers and marshland, climbed mountains, and bore the brunt of desert winds.
They paid hundreds of dollars to sit atop a freight train for a hundred miles. One of them almost died when a low overpass emerged from the night fog. There were hundreds of others on top of the train with them, which eased the sense of isolation for a while. There were about a dozen less when they reached their destination.
They survived incidents with robbers and extortionists; they ran to escape rapists and traffickers. Along the way, they lost everything they brought with them except what was in their pockets.
They ate discarded food and handouts from other refugees and one kind missionary. Finally, safety and their chance to start life over were within sight.
Together, they practically flew across that last river. Then they collapsed to their knees and jubilantly stared at the flags waving at them in the breeze; the flags of Texas and the USA.
Unfortunately, the hardest part of their journey was yet to come.
Immigration issues are very complicated and divisive. This week’s visit to Central America by Vice-president Joe Biden and President Obama’s frank discussion with the Mexican president highlighted a serious immigration phenomenon playing out around here of late.
Tens of thousands of children have made the journey described above alone. The border patrol has rounded up 52,000 of them since October.
How desperate does a mother have to be to send her kids on such a treacherous journey alone through Mexico, which is not kind to immigrants, for what is only a chance that the child will be allowed to stay in the United States?
Of course, that is part of the problem. Coyotes, or the shady characters who take money to help people cross the border successfully, prey on the parents and youth in these dangerous areas. They say they have been in the US many times. There are a lot of jobs. There is safety. Everyone is happy. Children will never be sent back. They will be placed in foster care until they get adopted. They will live in nice, modern neighborhoods without worries about gangs, droughts, and violence.
Then they tell the parents that for anywhere from $4,000- 8,000, they will guarantee a successful, safe passage. For their money, the would-be immigrants still face steep odds and horrific risks.
A recent report by the Washington Office on Latin Affairs (WOLA) cited statistics from the Documentation Network of Migrant Defense Organizations that 52% of immigrants crossing Mexico will be robbed and 33% will be extorted.
Hundreds will die in Mexico and hundreds more will die in the deserts of Arizona, Texas and New Mexico. Tens of thousands will be kidnapped and sold into human trafficking rings.
The ones who make it to the USA will have diverse experiences on this side of the border. Some will find family already here and can apply for the right to stay with them even if they are caught crossing illegally. Without family or friends, those caught should be sent back.
Unfortunately, many detention centers are filled. For that reason, some are given a date to report to court and then released to their own devices. Many of them will take advantage and escape farther north.
But the amount of border patrol agents and other enforcement officials has more than doubled in recent years. Hundreds of thousands of immigrants were caught and sent out of the USA last year.
President Obama’s response to the recent influx of unescorted children has been to direct funds toward speeding up the process of returning them to their homes. The odds that a child (or anyone else) will make it here and get to stay are still far from guaranteed.
Recognizing that it is not just jobs and money that caused the recent upsurge in illegal crossings; the vice-president also advised the leaders of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador that the US will assist them with funds to improve security and opportunities for children in their countries. The flip side is that America expects those countries to help fight the notion that the USA will welcome their children with open arms.
The immigration reform debate is brutal. Speaking biblically, we are supposed to follow the guidelines and laws of the government authorities (Romans 13). Illegal immigration is illegal immigration.
If you think it is only right-wing Americans who want to stem the flow, think of how the millions of people who are trying to enter legally from the rest of the world feel. Is it fair that someone gets to enjoy life in the United States because they illegally swam across a river while someone from Africa or India or even Europe waits patiently for years to get her visa approved?
But on the other hand, are we not supposed to love everybody and offer what we have to help them out? If I have a room, a meal, some spare clothing or cash or a temporary visa; and fail to extend it to one in need; am I denying Christ (Matthew 25:40)?
We are sending our brothers and sisters back to horrific conditions and uncertain (at best) futures. I referred to the family in the story above as refugees, not immigrants. We almost demand that countries like Turkey and Jordan open their borders to millions fleeing war and famine. Surely the conditions these children face warrant asylum of some type?
Clearly, the definitive solution is to end war, eradicate gangs, root out corruption, create jobs and grow enough food to improve life in regions less-fortunate.
I am not real sure our charity can do all that for Guatemala. But we are meeting next week to look at our original goals and what we are planning to do. And we are praying hard for guidance and blessings to help make a bigger impact where we can.
As we reflect on recent events and conditions around us, one thing is crystal clear: WE NEED YOUR PRAYERS, TOO!!! Not just for our little group, but all the missionaries, organizations and other individuals who are dedicated to making a difference in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
Please pray for us, and for the children, and for the government and spiritual leaders of the world. That with God’s help, we can find solutions instead of answers.