Crisis at the Border: What Could We Do?

Submitted by Bonnie Sestito

"White House Civil Disobedience" August 28 2014. Used by permission, Church World Service

“White House Civil Disobedience” August 28 2014. Used by permission, Church World Service

Beginning in October 2011, the U.S. Government recorded a dramatic rise—commonly referred to in the United States as “the surge”–in the number of unaccompanied and separated children arriving to the United States from these same three countries—El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. The total number of apprehensions of unaccompanied and separated children from these countries by U.S. Customs and Border Protection jumped from 4,059 in Fiscal year (FY) 2011 to 10,443 in FY 2012 and then more than doubled again, to 21,537, in FY 2013. At the same time, a tremendous number of children from Mexico have been arriving to the U.S. over a longer period of time, and although the gap is narrowing as of FY 2013, the number of children from Mexico has far outpaced the number of children from any one of the three Central American countries.

“Crisis at the Border: What Could We Do?” is AB Women’s Ministries mission focus for 2014-2015. Why is there a “crisis at the border?” Let us step into the shoes of those that have come to the United States from the Northern Triangle.

“I lived with my mother and two younger siblings. My biological father abandoned my mother when she was pregnant with me. I have a warm relationship with my stepfather, who has lived in the U.S. for eight years. My main reason for coming to the U.S. is to join my stepfather. Threats were made that led me to flee when I did. The head of the gang that controlled my neighborhood wanted me to be his girlfriend and threatened to kidnap me or to kill one of my family members if I didn’t comply. I knew another girl from my community who had become the girlfriend of a gang member and had been forced to have sex with all the gang members. I didn’t want this for myself. Once the gang started harassing me, I didn’t feel safe, so I stopped going to school and stayed at home until my family was able to make arrangements for my travel to the U.S.” (Josefina, El Salvador, Age 16)

“If they really do want to know how hard life is down there, they should go see it. There are kids who don’t make it past five years old because they die of hunger. Their parents can’t work because there are no jobs. Just give us a chance. Let us better ourselves so we can be something better than what we are today.” (Mauricio, Honduras, Age 17)

“I had problems with my grandmother. She always beat me from the time I was little. That’s why I went to live with my boyfriend—and because I was lonely and sad. But after we had been living together for about a month, my boyfriend also beat me. He beat me almost every day. I stayed with him for four months. I left because he tried to kill me by strangling me. I left the same day.” (Lucia, Guatemala, Age 16)

“I like playing soccer outside, but I can’t really play anymore. My friends from my neighborhood all moved because their brothers were killed. The cartel killed them, and the entire family left. So now I don’t have anyone to play soccer with. (Jaun, Mexico, Age 13)*

“What can we do?” This is the question that AB Women’s Ministries is asking of American Baptist women across the United States and in Puerto Rico. Below are some suggestions.

Celebrate: The International Day of the Girl Child promotes girls’ rights and highlights gender inequalities that remain between girls and boys. It is a UN observance that is annually held on October 11. Celebrate the International Day of the Girl Child giving your AB women’s or girls’ group the opportunity to raise public awareness of the different types of discrimination and abuse that many girls around the world suffer from.

Join thousands of churches, synagogues, mosques, temples and other faith communities across the country in the 2014 National Observance of Children’s Sabbath, designated for October 17-19. The theme is “Precious in God’s Sight: Answering the Call to Cherish and Protect Every Child.”   Celebrate by holding special worship services, education programs, and advocacy activities to engage people of faith in improving the lives of children and their families. A copy of this year’s resource manual may be downloaded from www.childrensdefense.org.

You can plan ahead for an observance of International Migrants Day on December 18. The Interfaith Immigration Coalition, of which ABCUSA is a part, has resources you could use in worship. International Migrants Day recognizes the large and increasing number of migrants in the world, and provides opportunity for advocacy on the human rights and fundamental freedoms of migrants.

Research: Find out if there is something that you can do for “unaccompanied and separated children,” who may be living in your community.

Advocate: Call your Members of Congress and ask that they reject rollbacks to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. If you don’t know who your Members of Congress are, go to https://www.govtrack.us/congress/members.

Make a Donation: Give to Church World Service (www.cwsglobal.org) to support their response to the crisis with unaccompanied children and families:

  • Legal Services and Assistance
  • Religious Services and Pastoral Care
  • Hospitality at Drop-off Points (food, clothing, diapers, medical care, housing and bus tickets for those being left without any support)
  • Humanitarian Assistance in Honduras (assistance to returning migrant children and adolescents unable to be admitted to the U.S. specifically, providing food, psycho-social care, healthcare, and sanitation and hygiene services for some 1,000 children and teenagers in a designated shelter in the city of San Pedro Sula, Honduras)

AB Women’s Ministries has a page on our website devoted to the 14-15 mission focus, “Crisis at the Border: What Could I Do?” You’ll find information and resources listed there, and you’ll have the opportunity to subscribe to our monthly emails on the topic that give more updated information, links, and ideas for action around particular facets of the theme.

Bonnie SestitoBonnie Sestito is coordinator of Mission with Women and Girls with AB Women’s Ministries.

*Information was obtained from www.unhcrwashington.org, “Children on the Run—Unaccompanied Children Leaving Central America and Mexico and the Need for International Protection: A Study Conducted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Regional Office for the United States and the Caribbean Washington, D.C.” (published March 2014).

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