When we ignore the least of these.

There is a story circulating about the children from South America that are being transported from Oklahoma to Arizona. There are thousands of these children. Border patrol is overwhelmed. Lately, it’s filling the newsfeeds and minds of my fellow Arizona residents. As a resident in Tucson, Arizona, only one or two hundred miles from the Mexico border, we hear about illegal immigration constantly. It’s what politicians use to gain votes, it’s the issue that everyone is pissed off about, it pops up in casual conversation, and chances are you’ve hired an illegal immigrant (either knowingly or unknowingly) to do yard work or to clean your house or to remodel your home.

I used to think, as many do, that illegal immigrants are just a bunch of drug smugglers and thieves, rapists, escaped convicts, murderers, just criminals of the worst kinds. But through the years, I’ve come to see that this is a mostly false but still widely accepted stereotype. I’ve heard stories of people who live on the far outskirts of town, next to the open desert (both beautiful and deadly, especially to immigrants travelling with little water), who have heard knocks on their doors in the middle of the night. They opened the door to find poorly dressed men and women, dirty, hungry, speaking little to no English, just looking for water or some scrap of food. Some people just find them in the night drinking from the hose, and they run away when they see they’ve been spotted. I’ve heard stories of people chasing these families away with guns and/or calling Border Patrol to have them deported on the spot, and I’ve also heard of people finding it in their hearts to help. But here’s the thing: aiding them is punishable by law. So many people would like to do something, but are afraid of the consequences. There’s also the fact that if you help one of them, they send word to other illegals that you’ll help, and you end up with more of them at your door, which increases the chances of you being caught.

Were these men, women, and children (often families) that showed up in people’s back yards, sometimes on the verge of passing out from dehydration and looking for a hose, all criminals? No. They were just families, looking for security, safety, and a home. Mexico is a place where there are only two main social classes, upper and lower, with only a very small in-between. Basically, you’re either wealthy and able to afford to live, or you’re living in a cardboard box trying to keep rain out, trying to keep your children cool and fed, taking any work that you can find. Usually children are sent out begging. Often these households (if you can call them houses) are abusive or neglectful, with many children and a lot of sickness due to lack of resources. And so they cross the border in Texas, Arizona, California, and wherever else they can in order to get away from it. Don’t get me wrong, some of them are legitimate criminals, but that is not always the case. More often, the criminals lure honest but desperate people into smuggling drugs for them in return for taking them across the border. There are horrific stories about women being forced to carry drugs inside their bodies, or being brutally beaten and raped by the criminals (called “coyotes”), along with their daughters, all while simply trying to get to the United States. Many men, women, and children are even sold into sex or labor slavery by these same coyotes.

Now, regarding the thousands of children that are being shipped from Oklahoma to a shelter in Nogales, and being “dumped” in Arizona. These children are not from Mexico, but they are part of the same issue: illegal immigration. They are  mainly from Central America (Honduras, Guatemala). With Mexican immigrants, Border Patrol are allowed to just transport them to the other side of the border and leave them there. But when you have a bunch of minors (all age 17 and under, some as young as one year old) all coming from Central America, you can’t just throw them in Mexico.

A few years ago, I would have said, “Just have them come over here legally.” And that would be it. I would have had no other opinion. I would have told you that I don’t care about immigration, as long as they’re not illegal. Until I began hearing about people who were stuck waiting for 15+ years to get their Visa. All Haitian, Hispanic from Central and South America, or African. (While Europeans and Canadians have a comparatively short wait time of months to years). They did it the legal way. Often only one family member (usually the father) would be able to get into the United States, and so would be legally living here and working, saving money to send to his family, while leaving his wife and kids in Mexico.

Now, regardless of how you feel about this issue, regardless of how you feel about our money leaving the economy and going to a foreign one, and regardless of how you feel about “legal” versus “illegal,” I have something to say about this.

These stories, all of them, break my heart in two. These are not the drug lords and rapists and evil people that we were told they are. They’re families. Many are teenage mothers with children as young as one year old. These are children as young as nine years old travelling from Central America all the way to the United States by themselves. Imagine your children, parentless, penniless, and starving, living in a war-torn and poverty-stricken country and travelling to the United States where they’re not even planning to try to hide from authorities, but rather turn themselves in, because they “heard they help kids.” Does that not shred your heart?

If you can look at their situation and see only politics and “secure borders” rather than an opportunity for service and compassion, rather than a system that needs serious revision, then I pity you. We’ve lost all compassion if we can turn our backs on children just because they are not from our country and were unable to obtain citizenship before the age of twenty-five or thirty years old. The Christian community especially should be stepping forward, because infinitely more important than being a United States citizen is being a citizen of an eternal Kingdom, and being subjects of a King that commands us to “make disciples of all nations” and to care for “the widow and the orphan.” This is a God who calls us to care for the least of these, and says “that which you do unto the least of these, you have done unto me,” but all we see is Republican versus Democrat, liberal versus conservative, border issues, and politics and who we should elect next, and we do not see people with huge needs. And that is what’s heartbreaking to me about all of this, is my brothers and sisters in Christ who can look a starving children who made their painstaking way by themselves across half of a continent, and say, “Send them back, we don’t want them.”

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