In mid-September, U.S. Customs and Border Protection revealed it has expelled 8,800 unaccompanied immigrant children along the U.S.-Mexico border, based on COVID-19 emergency orders.
The children did not receive basic protections. They didn’t have access to legal counsel. They didn’t appear before immigration judges. They didn’t see social workers. Many were not registered, so their whereabouts are unknown. Many were left vulnerable to human trafficking.
These children crossed into the United States during a pandemic because of desperation cultivated by U.S. immigration policy. The government’s Migrant Protection Protocols — also known as “Remain in Mexico” — stipulate immigrants seeking U.S. asylum must wait in Mexico as they await the process.
For almost two years, Fellowship Southwest has reported on the misery asylum seekers experience all along the border. We also have described how God has used borderland pastors and their churches to protect, heal, redeem and save God’s most-vulnerable creatures in a time of scarcity and impossibility.
These pastors have told me the stories of refugees under their care. I cannot disclose those stories, because the confidential information could threaten their immigration cases.
But I can assure you the immigrants and their children are mere commodities to Mexican cartels and other predators. Kidnapping and extorting refugees are the cartels’ business plan. Migrants, including children, mean money and control. They are vulnerable pawns — for cartels’ financial gain and governments’ political points.
Many immigrant parents send their children into the United States, believing government officials will protect them from kidnapping, murder, assault and COVID-19. To the contrary, the children end up being used by the governments and organized crime.
“What hurts me most is we don’t know the stories of these 8,800 children.”
What hurts me most is we don’t know the stories of these 8,800 children. Customs and Border Protection will not say, and the children cannot describe the process they experienced.
Dawn Wooten, a nurse at the Irwin Detention Center in Georgia, has filed a whistleblower complaint about conditions at the center, alleging immigrant women received unsafe medical care and questionable hysterectomies. The U.S. government also deported a crucial witness in an ongoing investigation into allegations of sexual assault and harassment at an El Paso detention center. The careless and secretive atmosphere promoted by the Department of Homeland Security does not reflect the values of a democracy. This bad-faith approach underscores an “I don’t care if you die” policy.
Customs and Border Protection continues to double down on inhumanity. It deports many children back to their “home” countries, from which they fled because of corrupt governments. And it intentionally expels children through different ports of entry than where they arrived, leaving them vulnerable to the cartels’ evil schemes.
“We have failed — not just our neighbors, but our own values and our God.”
We stand at a juncture of truth, a moment of witness. We have failed — not just our neighbors, but our own values and our God. We are living through one of the darkest moments in U.S. history — when children are processed without oversight and without regard for their safety amidst child trafficking and rampant disease.
We know about these 8,800 vulnerable children only because a federal judge forced Customs and Border Protection to tell us what it has done — six full months after it implemented the COVID-19 emergency orders.
The secretive nature of the expulsion process makes monitoring the children impossible. We cannot know what is being done with them and whether they were assessed for asylum and child trafficking.
What can we do?
- Witness and don’t forget.
- Exercise your political power. Tell your congressional representative to demand an end to this expulsion policy.
- Amplify the voice of these children through social media.
- Assist migrants who are your neighbors. They need your help; many are unemployed.
The response is up to you. Many of your church-going friends and neighbors refuse to witness what is happening. That doesn’t change the fact it is happening. Would you want this to happen to your child? Could you look away?
All I know is God cares, and so should you. We must continue to witness.
Elket Rodríguez is an immigrant and refugee advocacy and missions specialist for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and Fellowship Southwest. This column first appeared in the Fellowship Southwest newsletter.