Their images fill computer and television screens every day: crying children, bewildered children, toddlers, teens. They wait for six days or more in crowded, sunless Border Patrol jail cells built decades ago to hold adult men for a day or two. They jam holding facilities of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, waiting to be reunited with family members already in the United States.
“Stop them from coming,” the Republicans say. Bullshit. The children are already here. They will not stop coming because some sanctimonious senator on Face The Nation thinks they should.
We could continue the senseless cruelty of the last administration that put a ten-year-old on a plane to Honduras, alone, with no family members there to receive him. Or we can deal with the reality: these children came out of desperation, their own desperation or that of their parents, or both. Watching the suffering is not the same as dealing with the reality.
The Biden administration does not have sufficient staff or facilities to handle these unaccompanied minors. The current surge is a problem created by the Trump administration. True enough, but not enough. We can and we must do better by these children.
President Biden: Call in the Lutheran Immigrant Relief Services and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and Catholic Relief Services. Call in Chef José Andrés and his World Central Kitchen and FEMA and whoever else is waiting out there. Call in FEMA to build shelters. Call in Habitat for Humanity.
The United States has deep reserves of goodhearted people who will help others, given half a chance. One of my sisters asked, a few years back, “Why don’t people who care about refugees open their homes and take some in?” Because the government will not allow it, I told her. I don’t think she believed me, but that remains true.
It’s time and past time to unleash the power of caring in this country. Chef José Andrés is one of the highest-profile examples of what people can do to help in times of crisis. Sister Norma Jean Pimental is another. They are far from the only people ready, willing, and able to help. We need to unleash the power of people willing to do good.
If you want to donate to support relief efforts for people at the border, I have listed some good places below. But giving money or even going to the border to help is not enough. Even more important, you and I must demand that our elected government take action now to feed, shelter, and protect not only the children at the border but also the desperate and hungry adult immigrants begging for help.
President Biden needs to act. First, he needs to do whatever it takes to care for the unaccompanied minors already inside the United States and those who cross the border daily seeking safety.
Second, he must decisively end all Trump administration policies that keep sending people back to Haiti, back to Central America, back to Mexico instead of hearing and adjudicating their pleas for asylum. For a start, that means revoking the phony, fear-inspired Title 42 rule that allows the Border Patrol to simply expel people without any due process.
Third, President Biden needs to mobilize the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice to set up adequate staffing and processing at the border so that people can make their claims for asylum rather than camping on sidewalks and bridges on the Mexican side of the border.
Congress needs to act. The Republicans in the Senate, in particular, need to stop stalling and equivocating and perpetuating the cruelty of the failed Trump policies. Congress needs to appropriate whatever funds are needed to care for people at the border and to fund lawyers and judges at the border in numbers sufficient to represent asylum seekers and to hear their cases.
We—and by that, I mean we, the United States and all of us in it—need to protect the children, not just watch their suffering. If we do not act, the crowded Border Patrol cells will incubate outbreaks of COVID and of chicken pox and of influenza. If we do not act, children will die. We must act now—knowing that we have already waited far too long, and that—for many children—whatever we do already may be too late.
Call your Senators. Call your Congressional Representative. Call the White House comment line at 202-456-1111 or email at whitehouse.gov/contact. I just sent my message—feel free to copy and paste any language you like from this blog post to send yours.
These organizations are helping immigrants and children at the border now.
- Interfaith Welcome Coalition
- Annunciation House
- Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley
- Lutheran Immigrant and Refugee Services
- The Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights
- Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center
- Kids In Need of Defense (KIND)
- Casa Alexia—this one is small, but close to my heart, as it is run by the School Sisters of St. Francis, whom I have known and loved for more than 50 years.