I often think of a customary greeting in some African countries, ‘How are the Children?” The response is generally, “The children are well.” The question is asked because child well-being is a good measure of community well-being. Regrettably, we cannot provide that response. By all measures the children are not at all well. The policy to separate children from parents who illegally cross the border, emphasizes just how poorly the children are, based on the actions of adults. Protecting our borders is important, but at what cost? It is true that these parents are crossing the border illegally, but their misdemeanor crime seems to carry a stiff penalty for the children.
Pictures and video of the tent cities, and chain-linked facilities that children, isolated from their parents, are now calling home is cruel and immoral. If there is a way to guarantee children will not thrive, it is to interject trauma and remove responsible adults from their lives.
While the plight of immigrant children trying to enter the United States is the focal point of our discussion of child welfare, it’s fair to say that even without this highly visible national tragedy, the children still are not well. The U.S. child poverty rate currently sits at 21%. Approximately 1 in 5 U.S. children goes to bed hungry each night. Every day we traumatize children by allowing them to live in unsafe housing, in communities that are over-policed, yet violence continues to be the norm. Many of these children have limited access to quality education simply because of their zip code. These are very real traumas that American children endure every day. Our juvenile “justice” system allows children as young as 13 to be tried as adults and it is seemingly okay to warehouse them in adult penal institutions. If we treat American citizens in this manner, why are we shocked by the policy being implemented on non-U.S. citizens by Homeland Security?
The founding of this country saw children born into slavery separated from their mothers and fathers and sold for their labor. After hundreds of years, you would think that we could identify a more empathetic posture for the children, even if their parents are committing a misdemeanor crime in search of, well, a better life for their children.
How are the children? Not at all well.