History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.
(Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon)
Decolonization consists of working with migrant communities, and vulnerable populations in their countries of origin. Communities in the Global South who are especially subject to the sting entrapment of U.S. immigration, such as forced migrants, asylum seekers, internally displaced persons, and others, can easily become absorbed by assimilation into American “settlerism”. However, humanitarian responses to migrants, and child migrants in particular, are not merely a question of safe haven, as religionists would intend to propagate.
Decolonizing humanitarian response to forced migrants extends to the country of origin, where preventive means are addressed practically, and respectfully. While offering safe haven is essential, it is not humanitarian to offer continuous marginalization, and in return for mere survival at worst, and assimilation at best. Child migrants will continue to appear desperate and needful at the U.S. border as long as the epochal conundrum of American involvement in Latin America is unchanged, and Indigenous Peoples’ perspectives are eclipsed by settler assimilation.
Non-sectarian change makers, however, are in stride. Anti-immigrant groups and mainstream political leaders have shown themselves to be largely untrustworthy, including the general response from the Democratic Party. Most notably, Hillary Clinton agreed with the Republican deportation stance. The Emergency Supplemental Funds Bill delegates $300 million to the State Department as assistance to Central American countries in the repatriation of their citizens, and to launch advertising campaigns to prevent endangering more children who would face unaccompanied migration. Yet, as is historically, and presently apparent, human migration is inevitable. Especially in this context of transnational reform, social change must be reciprocal.
After meeting with leaders from the pro-immigrant movement on June 30th, 2014, Obama promised to supersede the Congressional stalemate on the issue, declaring a move to immunize millions more immigrants from deportation by Labor Day (William Greider, 2014). Veteran activists, and reformists at the White House expect such changes as deportation immunity for parents with children already exempted from deportation under the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), as well as making the categories of immigrants afforded the immunity more open for long-term residents. Activists in support of immigrants nationwide await the implementation of these humanitarian, executive actions, while not without certain trepidation.
The Southwest is rife with anti-immigrant migrant blockades, while hundreds involved in counteractions have sprung up in support of child migrants, such as in McAllen and Dallas in Texas, and Ramona and San Diego in California (Chacón, Elder, Galindo, Ovalle and Wear, 2014). Pro-immigrant activists have supported the important work of civil servants, such as Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, who proposed housing for 2,000 unaccompanied Central American child refugees, despite the hostile reaction of anti-immigrant demonstrators. Following Judge Jenkins’ action, immigrant rights organizations from North Texas rallied in support. In Fort Worth, for example, fifty pro-immigrant activists claimed a demonstration site prior to the arrival of anti-immigrant demonstrators.
The issue of child migrants who must return to Central America is a subtle, and controversial topic. The heavy-handed, politicization of U.S. law enforcement, however, has, as of yet, ineffectively ameliorated the historic situation, as caused primarily by economic hegemony, and regional instability. Deportation simply perpetuates regional strife, while unsavory domestic immigration policy exacerbates social progress. In response, there are change makers who are responding comprehensively, and wisely with regard to this complex issue. For example, the movement of pro bono law firms, corporations, nongovernmental organizations, universities and volunteers serving unaccompanied refugee and immigrant children is consolidated into the national organization known as Kids In Need of Defense (KIND), based in Washington D.C.
In concert with The Global Fund for Children (GFC), the Guatemalan Child Return and Reintegration Project, a pilot project of KIND, represents a foundational effort on behalf of likeminded organizations. On returning to their countries of origin, unaccompanied child migrants require humanitarian assistance reintegrating into their society. The illegalized trip north to the U.S. border from Central America is often traumatic, and all the more so is the experience of being deported, only to return to potentially life-threatening circumstances. Homelessness, physical abuse, neglect, run-ins with drug traffickers, death threats, and sexual abuse are among the myriad challenges that child migrants face on their way to the U.S (Lucia Bissell, 2008-2014). With the right assistance following a deportation order, these children can attain immigration relief, and have a chance to live.
The hieleras, or “ice boxes” where migrants are quickly processed on their illegal arrival across the border are infamous among those who have endured confinement. For 48 hours, detainees are held. Child migrants are typically sent to an Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) shelter, if they are not deported, or almost immediately returned to Mexico if Mexican, or released to their families. The ORR shelters are operated as part of the Department of Health and Human Services, though hot food, showers, soup, and clean clothes are nonexistent at ORR shelters.
During the month of June in 2014, when the migrant crisis escalated to its peak that year, children were kept in extremely cold, overcrowded “ice boxes” for up to twenty days. As the officials set a 48-hour target for processing, they first divide Mexicans from non-Mexicans, then social workers begin to contact their families for reunification, discerning between those with special needs and criminal charges. Evidently, many unaccompanied child refugees from Mexico are not recognized, or processed as such, and are observably equally as liable to life-threatening deportation as their Central American counterparts (Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Hidalgo County).
When children are unable to stay, and must adhere to U.S. Immigration law, such initiatives as the Guatemalan Child Return and Reintegration Project are crucial. Through organized activism, KIND has helped over 100 children return to Guatemala to reunify with their family, and gain educational opportunities. After partnering with Global Giving, a charity fundraising network, KIND’s Guatemalan Child Return and Reintegration Project now supports technical training, school fees, transportation from the airport to the child’s rural home, personalized reunification plans, case management counseling, and youth empowerment retreats (Picciotto, 2008-2014).
For many unaccompanied child migrants, however, return is simply not a viable, or safe option. “I am afraid to go back to Guatemala because I am afraid that there is no one to protect me,” said Dulce Medina, a 15-year old Guatemalan refugee among the tens of thousands who fled 1,500 miles to the U.S. border (Lee, 2014). The reason why an ad hoc press conference organized by the House Progressive Caucus was filled with fervent listeners is because an opportunity to hear testimony from unaccompanied child migrants is rare amid the political and media cacophony (Student Nation, 2014). At the conference, Medina sat with two peers from Honduras and El Salvador. Together, they reminded Congressional members, and the public, of the unforgiving reality that they were fortunate enough to have escaped.
Ten miles from the border of Mexico, in McAllen, Texas, outside of the U.S. Homeland Security and Border Patrol Center, the Human Rights Coalition of South Texas organized a pro-immigrant assembly, which took place in late July, 2014. The Indigenous group, Grupo de Danza Tradicional Azteca Xinachtli, traveled six hours from Del Rio to perform their blessing for the migrants who lost their lives, and for the greater struggle of the living. The “Humanity is Borderless” campaign, an affiliation of the Human Rights Coalition of South Texas, is now coordinating ongoing actions nationwide to transcend sectarian religious and political motivations, and advance a collective humanitarian response (Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Hidalgo County).
Overwhelmingly, genuine humanitarianism is scarce among the institutionalized foundations of settler imperialism. National border agencies, as they espouse security, are historically, and currently purposed to dehumanize and disorder vast numbers of people through forcible belligerence, domestically and internationally. As a growing support base welcomes innocent and terrified migrant children with open arms, the overregulated march of border imperialism remains as the mechanical arm of modern America, to be remembered as the weathered, and unmoving ruins of every archaic empire.
William Greider. (August 6, 2014). Could Obama Solve the Immigrant Crisis Through Executive Action?. The Nation.
Justin Akers Chacón, Bo Elder, Erika Galindo, Mario Ovalle and Avery Wear. (August 6, 2014). The Refugees are Welcome Here”. Nation of Change.
Lucia Bissell. (2008-2014). An eye-opening experience. Guatemalan Child Return and Reintegration Project (GCRRP) Blog.
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Hidalgo County. UUFHC Response to the Humanitarian Crisis on the Border.
Adrienne Picciotto. (2008-2014). Help Children in Guatemala! Guatemalan Child Return and Reintegration Project (GCRRP) Blog.
Esther Yu-Hsi Lee. (July 30, 2014). These Three Central American Kids Who Fled Violence Are Asking Congress To Help Others Like Them. Think Progress.
Student Nation. (August 18, 2014). Where Is the Voice of Migrant Children in the Immigrant Crisis? The Nation.
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Hidalgo County. (July 23, 2014). Dispatch from the Border: What you Need to Read Now. StandingontheSideofLove.org.