Tell me How it Ends: An essay in 4 Questions written by Valeria Luiselli.
In varying degrees, some papers and webpages announce the arrival of undocumented children like a biblical plague. Beware the locusts! They will cover the face of the ground so that you cannot be seen—menacing, coffee-colored boys and girls, with their obsidian hair and slant eyes. They will fall from the skies, on our cars, on our green lawns, on our heads, on our schools, on our Sundays. They will make a racket, they will bring chaos, their sickness, their dirt, their brownness. They will cloud the pretty views, they fill the future with bad omens, they will fill our tongues with barbarisms. And if they are allowed to stay here they will—eventually reproduce!
We wonder if
the reactions would be different were all these children of a lighter color: of
better, purer breeds or nationalities.
Would they be treated more like people?
More like children?...
Sometimes, when our children fall asleep again, I look back at them, or hear them breathe, and wonder if they could survive in the hands of coyotes and what would happen to them if they were deposited at the U. S. border, left either on their own or in the custody of Border Patrol officers. Were they find to themselves alone, crossing borders and countries, would my own children survive?
Nancy Heege is a friend of mine and was the lead staff member in the Prairie Star District of the Unitarian Universalist Association. She wrote ("Changing Ourselves: Theological Reflection for All Ages" in Cooking Together: Recipes for Immigration Justice Work on October 19, 2011): "Immigration justice work is complex. We Unitarian Universalists sometimes think that we have the solutions to complex problems, that we know how to make things right. But our belief in a free and responsible search for truth and meaning implies that there is always more we can learn and additional layers of meaning to uncover. Can we find a multigenerational approach to justice work that focuses not just on solutions to complex problems, but also gives us opportunities to reflect on, and be affected by, the work we do? As we do justice work in our congregations, we need to help one another keep open hearts and be willing to be changed by what we learn, what we see, and what we experience." She urges UUs to talk about immigration with our children and youth. She asks "how is your congregation helping children, youth, adults and families commit to changing themselves for the better as they engage with immigration justice work? What theological questions are you asking as you act to change the world for the better?"
I start with Nancy's thoughts in part because we have our youth with us today to help us consider, from a multigenerational perspective, the impact that the immigration system is having on immigrant children and how we might open ourselves to be changed by what we learn, touched by what we see, and responsive to what we experience. I also hope our youth add their questions to ours in this discussion, theological questions that we can reflect on during our efforts to change the world for the better.
I remember what Roxanne said a couple weeks ago when she invited us to participate in the Crafting Witness Project for the children caught up in the immigration system; she asked us "How are the children?" She went on to tell us about the Masai tribe in Africa places a high value on their children's well-being. "Even warriors with no children of their own would always give the traditional answer, "All the children are well." Meaning, of course, that peace and safety prevail, that the priorities of protecting the young, the powerless, are in place." (from Patrick O'Neil, "How are the children") In preparing for this morning I found myself pondering about my own priorities in protecting the young and powerless and about UU Miami's priorities.
Public witness, speaking truth to power, is one way members of UU Miami have sought to protect children. Members of our congregation and other faith communities including other UU faith communities, as well as the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, helped shutter the Homestead facility for migrant youth and children in October 2019. It housed children and youth in deplorable conditions.
Yet there are still immigrant children being held today, separated from their parents. There is movement by this present administration to re-open detention centers, including the one in Homestead. And members of UU Miami and others are right back out there, speaking truth to power again and offering public witness at Homestead to keep the facility closed.
Who speaks for the children? Can we say "all the children are well?" As I reflect on this question, I think of my own children, about their experiences, about their privileges, about how Martha and I cared for them, protected them, loved them. And who they have become as young adults. And I wonder, as Louis Pasteur did as he interacted with children, about the tenderness we are showing migrant children. I wonder what they may become as a result of the experiences they are having in the U. S. immigration system.
Can you imagine how a child of yours or a child you love, at say age 5 or 7 or 16 or 17 traveling across many borders, being transported by strangers, being left alone in a foreign country, arrested, brought to court and asked questions by a judge. I have to be honest I can't even imagine my children in that position. I can't really imagine what it is would be like for any child to be in that position.
When I say I can't imagine, I mean I can't imagine a child or youth enduring those experiences without some physical or psychological harm coming to them. What are the social interventions in place to help those children who are separated from their families? Are there any? It seems like, to me anyway, you could have a whole platoon of social workers, child psychologists, therapists and teachers working 24/7/365 and it still would just be a tiny drop to help this overflowing bucket of need. How are all the children?
A recently published study in Social Science & Medicine found that 32% of children at a detention center showed signs of emotional problems. (From "Lengthy Detention Of Migrant Children May Create Lasting Trauma, Say Researchers" NPR, August 23, 2019) Sarah MacLean, an author of this study of immigrant children held in detention says: "'They showed symptoms like, 'wanting to cry all the time, wanting to be with [their] mom, conduct problems, such as fighting with other kids, or having temper tantrums, peer problems, not having a lot of friends, or only wanting to interact with adults." MacLean also interviewed 150 kids aged nine to 17 years at the same detention center about whether they were experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Her study found that 17% of the children showed significant symptoms of PTSD. … And, most Central American children in U.S. immigration detention centers have already experienced layers of trauma by the time they arrive here…The trauma 'that happened in their home countries — the violence, the extortion, the police complicity, government inaction. Then they've trekked through Mexico, where they've seen some great horrors — rapes and assaults and violence and death.'… "[These traumas affect regions of the brain and functions that have to do with cognition, intellectual process, with judgment, self-regulation, social skills," says [Luis] Zayas, [a clinical social worker and psychologist and the dean of the Steve Hicks School of Social Work at the University of Texas at Austin]. 'And it really troubles me that there will be thousands and thousands of children who will be scarred for life.'"
It takes a village to develop healthy bodies and minds and hearts. Children require touch, unconditional love, freedom to explore the world within the safe bounds that families and communities provide. What village needs to form to help these immigrant children who didn't have these? Who have been traumatized multiple times? What am I called to do in order to be part of that village that helps them? What is UU Miami called to do? What are you called to do? I can't answer that, but I have begun to do some more research about what actions I can take. It's a big challenge after a year of big challenges. And it's social justice work that will change who you are and how you see the world. It's social justice work where even the small efforts you make can have a tremendous impact, work that invites you to be the change you seek in the world. So that when we greet one another with "How are the children", we can say we are helping the children to be well.