By Russ Dean
Jesus said, “Let the little children come unto me.”
But Robert Pittenger, a North Carolina congressman, said if they arrive at our border without proper documentation, let the little children be deported ASAP, even though crushing poverty and crime await them. Some children have even been murdered after repatriation. It’s a pity he says, “[but] you put them on planes and you send them back.”
The numbers are staggering. During the past year more than 60,000 unaccompanied children, many younger than 12, have arrived at our southern border. Most have journeyed from three Central American countries — Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador — which are facing unprecedented challenges in securing the welfare and safety of their citizens.
The “push” and the “pull” of immigration brings them. Economic hardships and lawlessness form the “push.” Gangs and drug cartels are destroying the peace and prosperity of these countries, even though estimates show that as much as 90 percent of Central American drugs are consumed in the United States. What parents would not want their children freed from those dangers?
The “Land of Opportunity” to the north, with its “invitations” to work, create most of the “pull.” That invitation is explicit, though not official. Advertisements in Spanish-language newspapers announce construction, landscaping, poultry processing and agriculture jobs in the U.S. And the implied invitations of countless American employers, who will give you a job with or without documentation, are ubiquitous. Can you imagine going to an interview for an advertised job, only to be arrested for showing up for that interview? That is precisely what is happening to so many Latin Americans today.
The state of U.S. immigration presents a number of legitimate problems, but the mind-numbing intractability and hard-heartedness of many Americans and the ineffective work of the U.S. Congress only make these matters worse. Immigration myths continue to abound. These children, for example, are not bringing communicable disease with them as they cross Mexico atop a train called la bestia (the beast). According to the Health and Human Services’s Office of Refugee Resettlement, “Latin American children receive vaccinations at roughly the same rates as children from the United States, and… children released to sponsors ‘receive vaccinations and medical screenings. We do not release any children who have a contagious condition.’”
Another persistent myth is that migrant workers take jobs and bring down our economy. On the contrary: migrant work is a net-positive for North Carolina. Taxes paid by immigrants increase state revenues, as do their purchases and consumption which are necessary for living. In addition, withholdings paid into the Medicare fund will, in most cases, never be released. In addition to these factors is the productivity immigrants offer through their long, back-breaking labor.
Many more myths have been, and need to be debunked continually: crime, language, health, education. I encourage you to Google “immigration myths” to learn more.
In light of these facts, and the consistent scriptural call to offer compassion to the widow, the orphan and the sojourner among you, Representative Pittenger’s callous comment is disappointing; for people of faith it is simply unacceptable. Obviously it’s not just misinformation and immigration laws that need to be changed in our nation today. Much more importantly, we need a change of heart. We’re not arguing over borders or the price of oil.
These are children.
If we send them back to their deaths because we cannot sort out our childish political squabbles, their blood will be on our hands, and I’m confident that’s not how Jesus expected us to receive them.