The news coverage and photos of the children and youth at the U.S.-Mexico border paint the picture of a true humanitarian crisis. These children, the majority from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, are arriving hungry, physically exhausted, having endured severe trauma, and without a safe and stable place to call home. It is hard for me to imagine how any North American could not feel some compassion in their hearts towards these children and youth.
These young people are fleeing horrible conditions in their countries of origin, they have been separated from family members who love them, many have health issues, and some have experienced physical and emotional trauma. It is not a childhood we would wish on any child, and it is not a journey we would want our own children to experience.
There are so many unanswered questions about the fate of these children. Will they find a family member? Will they get the medical and legal services they need? Will they be deported back to the country and conditions that they fled? Will they recover from the trauma of their experience? And most importantly, will our nation's leaders care for these children as they would care for their own? Sadly, that does not seem to be the case.
While our government debates immigration rhetoric, these children have immediate needs: medical services, mental health counseling, legal support, and a safe and stable roof over their heads until their sponsors can be found and their legal status defined. Some have come to LAYC for help.
This week, I met with several other local leaders from the DC Latino community to present our recommendations to Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton. We recommended the following immediate actions in response to this crisis:
- Granting "refugee status" as opposed to "undocumented immigrant status," reinforced by the United Nations (UN) today, allowing certain legal and humanitarian services to be afforded to the children;
- No change in current law that would send the children, many under age 10, back to the collapsed states where their safety would be jeopardized;
- Providing the children and their relatives with the legal counsel they need to navigate a confusing system, including pro bono counsel; and
- A regional response from D.C. and the surrounding counties, including a statement by chief executives and Members of Congress that they will work collaboratively on this issue.
Congresswoman Norton supported our recommendations and called for the DC bar to offer pro bono services to the children in the region and at the border.
With every passing day this crisis is worsening. I have to believe that our nation will care. I have to believe that our leaders will do the right thing. I have to believe that these children will find their way to people who love them and people who will care for them.
In the meantime at LAYC, we are working with local authorities to expedite certification of foster and host homes to house and care for these children, and we are collaborating with community partners to fill other needs. And one thing that I know for sure is that LAYC's doors will always be open to all.