Last week three buses carrying 140 women and children were attacked by over three hundred flag-waving, yelling, patriotic demonstrators. The incident occurred in the city of Murrieta, California, and the terrified people inside of the buses were undocumented immigrants who had entered the country illegally in Texas - and then been flown by the government to San Diego where they were put aboard the buses and shipped north for temporary housing in a detention center. But the good people of Murrieta had other ideas, and they eventually forced the buses to turn around and leave.
(The buses finally came to rest at a detention center in Chula Vista, California - apparently without incident. I have a cousin in Chula Vista who adopts every stray dog or cat that ventures down her lane. Perhaps it's something in the water that makes that community so accepting.)
There has been a growing problem of undocumented children crossing the southern border of the United States since 2011. This year predictions are that over 70,000 children will cross the southern border illegally, many of them traveling alone. The kids are coming from Mexico and several countries in Central America.
The children coming in who are Mexican nationals can be turned back over to Mexico relatively quickly if they are unable to convince U.S. authorities that being returned to their homes would place them in danger. The others, however, require more time and attention. Many are put into detention centers or placed in foster care situations where they may languish for months awaiting court action and a resolution to their case and status.
Texas receives far more of these undocumented children than any other state, and some are necessarily being moved to other states due to a lack of space and facilities. The Border Patrol is tasked with handling most of these undocumented immigrants, taking away from time that they could be using to fight crime along the border.
There was a story on National Public Radio this morning about a young boy who had traveled by himself from Guatemala to the United States and managed to make it across the border before being apprehended by the border authorities. His mother had left him in Guatemala with his grandmother while she went to the United States looking for employment. After the child's grandmother became too ill to care for him, he took off on his own hoping to reach the U.S. and find his mother. The NPR story talked about the dangers faced by children traversing Latin America - walking, hitchhiking, riding trains, and dealing with dangerous people along the way including human smugglers.
Kids, some very young, are coming to the United States seeking safety and a better life. Some are looking for relatives who are already here, and others are simply hoping to establish themselves in improved circumstances. And they are risking their lives to come to this country.
These young refugees represent a moral and political dilemma for which there are no easy answers. Politicians are stumbling all over themselves trying to appear tough on the issue of immigration while still seeking practical solutions to a problem will not be remedied quickly or easily. And the public, many of whom are probably decent human beings ninety percent of the time, are suddenly hurling insults and banging on buses with homemade signs - and scaring the bejeezus out of little kids.
There are no easy answers, but the lives of children are at stake.
It is well past time for Congress and the President to tackle the issue of immigration reform and to find solutions to this growing crisis. It is a problem that will not go away on its own - and the answers will not come easily. But they won't come at all unless our leaders roll up their shirtsleeves and get to work. The lives of thousands of young children hang in the balance.
Below is a poem by Luis Rodriguez on the subject of immigration that I printed in this space several years ago. It is a beautiful and very thought-provoking piece that gives a glimpse into the actual process of trying to cross the border.
Running to America
by Luis Rodriguez
They are night shadows violating borders,
fingers curled through chain-link fences,
hiding from infra-red eyes, dodging 30-30 bullets.
They leave familiar smells, warmth and sounds
as ancient as the trampled stones.
Running to America.
There is a woman in her finest border-crossing wear:
A purple blouse from an older sister,
a pair of worn shoes from a church bazaar,
a tattered coat from a former lover.
There is a child dressed in black,
fear sparkling from dark Indian eyes,
clinging to a headless Barbie doll.
And the men, some hardened, quiet,
others young and loud - you see something
like this in prisons. Soon they will cross
on their bellies, kissing the black earth,
then run to America.
Strange Voices whisper behind garbage cans,
beneath freeway passes, next to broken bottles.
The spatter of words, textured and multi-colored,
They must run to America.
Their skin, color of earth, is a brand
for all the great ranchers, for the killing floors
on Soto Street and as slaughter
for the garment row. Still they come:
A hungry people have no country.
Their tears are the grease of the bobbing machines
that rip into cloth
that make clothes
that keep you warm.
They have endured the sun's stranglehold,
el cortito, foundry heats and dark caves
of mines swallowing men.
Still they come, wandering bravely
through the thickness of this strange land's
Their cries are singed with the fires of hope.
Their babies are born with a lion
in their hearts.
Who can confine them?
Who can tell them
which lines never to cross?
For the green rivers, for their looted gold,
escaping the blood of a land
that threatens to drown them,
they have come,
running to America.