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What are these young refugees telling us about ourselves?

There is overwhelming evidence that most are fleeing from potentially life-threatening conditions in their homelands in Central American. However, we continue to debate whether these people are truly refugees or, alternatively, perhaps not worthy of that status and should be sent back home. That debate has some relevance at the margins. Be we have the evidence that says we have a refugee crisis, not an out-of-control immigration crisis.

Refugees require humane treatment, and that treatment is to be maintained until it can be determined if indeed that status is legitimate. Meanwhile, we need to honor our own laws, defend the defenseless, more importantly, listen to our conscience. There are refugee camps throughout the world tending to the vulnerable dislocated, virtually all located in countries WAY poorer that this one. For these countries, maintaining refugee camps is the compassionate and necessary response.

I’m seeing some hesitancy to fulfill our humanitarian duties. Some of our citizens (and by extension, the politicians that represent them) maintain that either (1) these youth include a number of Trojan horses, ready to cause havoc and harm and bring diseases to our country or (2) in any case, we just can’t afford to give refuge. Citizens that ascribe to either (1) or (2) or both want a quick return of these new entrants. Refugee status? Bah, humbug!

If we aren't going to take the time, money and effort to determine their true status, for example by setting up properly funded processes for making that determination, then I think we have, by default, opted out of our international and humanitarian obligations.

My question is, why would we make that choice? Why would we opt out of this opportunity to show, not only our humanitarian heart, but a little world leadership, as well?

I think there are two answers:

We opt out because we are afraid. For the xenophobic among us, these youth at our border are somehow terrifying, posing a vague threat to survival. A quick exit would be just the tonic for the fears percolating in hearts of these ones. For me, it has become a rule of thumb that the Republican Party will poke at the embers of fear smoldering in our hearts at every opportunity. “Death panels”, “the end of America as we know it”, “black helicopters coming for your guns”. The fear-mongering is relentless, and plays really well to the xenophobic of all stripes.

Second, there are many that view this nation’s financial health as a zero-sum process. Their calculation goes something like this: “If we spend money on these youngsters, then there's less for me and mine, so send them home, economy class, on the next flight. We just can’t afford to have all these new folks using up our resources.” Again, this is a popular Republican refrain: Extend unemployment? Can’t afford it. Invest in national infrastructure? Can’t afford it. Food stamps? Can't afford it. And so on. And this may make sense IF you believe our nation’s financial well-being runs on the same principles as a family budget, where the key is to parse the known dollars. That theory, however, is well past debunked.

But there is an important positive reason to protect the children at our border and resist expelling them without due process: Conscience.

If we harm these children, we end up with the equivalent of the scars we get from wars. In war, we kill, maim, and hurt people, too often as collateral, too often including innocents. Ask our returning veterans about this un-glorious face of war and the internal wounds it has inflicted upon them.

Perhaps an analogy would better serve the point. Imagine you and some friends are lost and alone at sea in a survival raft. Along comes another survivor, without a raft, who frantically wants to come aboard. You are faced with the ultimate zero-sum calculation. But how do you feel about yourself and your mates later, now safely ashore, if you had chosen to reject that survivor from your raft?  

A fair hearing for those at the border will at least allow us to avoid the needless poisoning of our conscience, and offers a rare opportunity to feel good about ourselves.

I am sickened by the knee-jerk Republican response to fear-monger this issue, and it will sicken this nation if their ilk are allowed to guide our policy toward these children. This is not an issue that allows for compromise. Either we offer an oar to safety, or we don’t.

Our first steps must be to protect, evaluate, and offer refuge where appropriate

Originally posted to Redmond Ryan on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 03:50 PM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Americans are increasingly xenophobic (9+ / 0-)

    and it appears to increase each year after 9/11.  I also note various pols and others take advantage of this fear and stoke it.  Note the outcry against allowing 2 American doctors who contracted ebola on a humanitarian mission to reenter the country.  Treat them is the cry, but treat them in another country.

    Though the chance of an ebola outbreak in the US is nil, still the fear is there.  In the same way, refugees are feared as disease carriers though they are more likely to be vaccinated than their US peers.  The average child has more chance of contracting measles or other communicable disease from another native born child  

  •  Fear of the unknown has always been a trait (8+ / 0-)

    in humans, exploited to the fullest by those who have also mastered the art of fine propaganda.  Fear - fear of "others" (Muslim, black, you know, those who don't "look" 'merkan) is the stock in trade for Faux noose and the wackiest of the wackos in the House. (Bachmann, King, Gomert, et al) who come up with scary "facts" every time some one sticks a mike in front of them.  When you're in its grips, fear won't let you tap into your compassionate side (assuming most people have one) because you need all your energy to get ready to fight or flee.
    Just another day in the good ole USA.
    Shame shame shame. (which no one can feel, either)

    You all laugh because I'm different; I laugh because you're all the same

    by sajiocity on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 05:06:08 PM PDT

    •  The fear response has been stoked endlessly (8+ / 0-)

      by the right media, and mostly because we have a  black President, I think. It's like Obama has brought out this nasty 'other' response in our populous and right media - with GOP Central cheering it on - keeps throwing gasoline on the embers.  

      I think your insight is on the money.

      When you're in its grips, fear won't let you tap into your compassionate side (assuming most people have one) because you need all your energy to get ready to fight or flee.
      Our compassion is pushed aside if we are fearful, but will come to the fore, under normal conditions.

      A plutocracy (government by the wealthy) is not a democracy.

      by Redmond Ryan on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 05:35:05 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I think a majority of Americans are sick. (4+ / 0-)

    In spite of their religiosity, they lack empathy - for refugees, the poor, people who differ from the majority.  The churches, education system and media bear much blame for this. I feel more pity than anger because they must be very unhappy and  have few leaders to show them how much more they could be.

    •  The reality? (0+ / 0-)

      The School of the Americas continues on whether it is a D or an R at 1600 Penn.

      Obama backing the right wing overthrow in Honduras is Politics a la mode in DC. That is the cause of the current wave of refugee children.

      Throw some platitudes to the two parties' foot soldiers, but in DC it's business as usual.

      Lucy and the football….take 4,342,198 Charlie Brown. see if you can kick it this time.

      Maybe one day the foot soldiers will figure it out.

      •  Panama has the highest GDP per capita in CA (0+ / 0-)

        We ran Panama as a colony for several decades, it didn't exist as a country at all until we stole territory from Colombia, the US dollar is legal tender there and we dominated there so completely that baseball, not soccer is their national sport.

        We even let Noriega run the place for a while.

        Shouldn't Panama be the poorest country in the area?

        "states like VT and ID are not 'real america'" -icemilkcoffee

        by Utahrd on Tue Aug 05, 2014 at 08:45:01 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  We're not being told the truth about what's going (12+ / 0-)

    on in Honduras. The typical commercial media reporting in the US reports that Honduras has the highest homicide rate in the world and that the population is at risk from gangs and drug cartels.

    I found out through Human Rights Watch that isn't at all what's happening. Instead, an agro-business conglomerate tied to the country's largest bank is seizing all of the land in the Bajo Aguán valley. They forcibly evict poor farmers who have small plots of land and clear entire villages, including homes, schools, churches.

    http://www.hrw.org/...

    The local people have been organizing to resist.  The business enterprise claiming their land uses a private security firm and I don't think anyone knows how many people have been killed. There's no law enforcement investigations or government protection of human rights. The situation has escalated so that lawyers and activists who tried to intervene on behalf of the campesinos are also getting killed.

    It's no wonder that people are coming north and It seems there's very limited access for anyone to hear their stories.

  •  Everything was always a zero sum game for the (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    blueoasis, richardvjohnson, laurnj

    Confederacy, and it still is for its neo incarnation.

  •  I want to help promote the use (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    laurnj, SMWalt, 417els

    of the term "refugee," instead of the term "immigrant." It's more descriptive.

    Thanks for the diary.

    Supple and turbulent, a ring of men/ Shall chant in orgy on a summer morn...

    by karmsy on Tue Aug 05, 2014 at 07:05:28 AM PDT

  •  EU rules (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    No one gets out alive

    European Union rules on refugees, I read here, say that refugees have to go to the closest country.  They can't pick the one they want.

    There is a country closer to Central America with no language barrier for them, a nationalized oil company, marriage equality and strict gun control.  

    Shouldn't refugees be going there?

    Why would they want to go to a freezing, racist country with an electoral college and meat loaf?

    "states like VT and ID are not 'real america'" -icemilkcoffee

    by Utahrd on Tue Aug 05, 2014 at 08:47:13 AM PDT

  •  Ten thousand kids on the south side of Chicago (0+ / 0-)

    live in the same conditions..  (probably more)  The gangs have taken over.  Kids live in fear of walking down the street lest they get shot at, or worse forced to join one of the gangs.

    What's the difference?

    What are we doing to help them?  Is President Obama willing to ask Congress for 4 Billion dollars to make life safe for these kids?

    We cannot even take care of our own!

    Let's work something out with Mexico.  They should be taking these kids.  We'll help pay for their care.

  •  Too much fear, too little empathy (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Redmond Ryan, SMWalt, Oye Sancho

    It all pretty much traces back to that.

    It's an imbalance that the GOP propaganda machine (Fox et al) uses to keep their customers at a rolling boil on the immigration issue. When this crisis reared its head, any response that was not xenophobic would have been incongruent. The only wiggle room a Republican Congressman or Senator has is in the intensity of the xenophobia they choose to project.

    In fairness, the right is 100% correct to view immigration as a threat to their political relevance and existence. They can't figure out how to make brown people stop hating them, so they must figure out how to make them stop coming.

    Almost everything you do will seem insignificant, but it is most important that you do it.

    by The Termite on Tue Aug 05, 2014 at 09:59:26 AM PDT

  •  in high unemployment, migrants are fought (0+ / 0-)

    we are seeing service workers fighting for better pay,
    this means the migrants are a threat here.

  •  In a perverse way, remembering (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    SMWalt

    that there is a long history of hostility toward immigrants in this country actually makes me a feel a little better.

    It doesn't make the hatred being spewed at defenseless children any easier to watch, but it does make me a little calmer to remember that this country's love-hate relationship with immigrants has been going on forever. It's not a new dynamic.

    And ugly though the process often is, this country has usually wound up being fairly accepting in the end.

  •  We have long intervened in these countries (0+ / 0-)

    in horrific ways, propping up dictators and the NAFTA trade agreement are two things that come to mind. We have helped create the very conditions these children are living in. That is what needs to be discussed.

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