Wednesday, July 23, 2014

They Need a Miracle

Young Central Americans traveling north on train top

Jewish kids traveling to England by Kindertransport during World War II

When news broke of the Central American kids showing up at the U.S.' southern border, I thought immediately of a friend's mother, who escaped Nazi Germany at age six with her slightly older sister and younger brother. Their parents had seen the certainty of their family's persecution and decided to give their kids a chance to survive. Several European countries passed on taking them in. Eventually they got on a ship in northern Africa headed for the United States. All three lived to old age, because people in New York state agreed to take in three children fleeing from violence and certain death. Their parents' assessment of the political situation was correct. They died, likely in a Nazi death camp, along with a younger son.

The kids from Central America are facing similarly bleak odds, as the drug cartels who de facto run these countries are recruiting elementary school-aged children to deliver and sell drugs and to do other criminal activities. It's horrifying to put myself in the place of their parents, many of whom are living in the U.S. without legal immigration documentation. They left their kids behind with grandparents and other relatives, hoping to provide from afar a better life for their kids. These parents have assessed the deteriorating political situation in their home countries and scraped together enough money to send their kids north. Having made their own way north via coyotes, likely enduring egregious indignities, these parents clearly decided that their kids stood a better chance with human smugglers than staying in their home countries.

Surely even the hardest-line anti-immigration supporter would be hard-pressed to ignore these childrens' plights. It turns out, they can. There have been ugly protests along the border as some of the kids were transported by bus to detention centers. Aided and abetted by elected U.S. officials and demagogues posing as journalists, anti-immigration protesters have greeted busloads of these kids with angry faces, chants and signs.

"They have to come here through legal channels," a neighbor told me on the Fourth of July. Uh-huh. Such high-minded rhetoric ignores the reality that these kids are living in war zones. If my friend's mom and siblings had waited to go into other countries legally, they likely wouldn't have survived.

People who otherwise call themselves Christians are demanding that the Central American kids be deported immediately. They came here illegally, so they don't deserve the benefit of American due process. I get the logic here. But the question is, how do these people square their mercilessness with their Christian beliefs?

I don't know the answer to this question, because I struggle with it myself. This situation is very complicated. Clearly something needs to be done, and quickly. Immediate deportation is not the answer, as many of these kids say they will return to the U.S.

I've heard people say that Jesus was not interested in social justice. His concern was in salvation. I believe that helping others is part of my salvation. Jesus didn't just sit on a mountaintop to pray for his own salvation and for those he loved. He got his hands dirty touching lepers and bleeding sores. He healed the sick and fed the hungry. He hated injustice so much he got violently angry with moneychangers in the temple who were ripping off their neighbors. Jesus didn't say to those who came to him in need of healing, "Sorry, you'll need to pay cash in advance before I do my thing." Nor did he say to the wedding party in Cana, who ran out of wine, "Sorry, poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine. Besides, don't you know that drinking wine is bad for you?"

You might rightly say, Jesus performed miracles. Mere humans don't. But are miracles only the province of Jesus and enlightened masters? Maybe. But should that let the rest of us off the hook? Time and time again people have pooled their talents and their hopes to do things that benefit others.

Being a good Christian isn't just about helping those we already know and love. A truly saving love includes helping those we don't know, much less particularly love. Sometimes it's a miracle just to do the right thing. I don't know the answer to this question. But I do know that helping these young people who are escaping violence and political and economic instability is the right thing to do.

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