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A Fierce Debate is Raging

 Lori Pinney de Nij

     Across my social media pages and news updates a fierce debate is raging.

There are sincere Christians who believe that as Christ believers we are called to obey the law of the land, and brothers and sisters who believe that as a church we should welcome the homeless and be compassionate, following the example of Jesus Christ. Both sides are sharply divided. Brothers and sisters, mothers and daughters, sons and fathers are setting up camp on opposite sides, without even mentioning anything of the traditional left and right. I have rarely seen a topic more passionate or more volatile rage across the screen of my computer. Tragically, most people are vocalizing and becoming hostile about a subject they know little about and the majority of North (notice I say North) Americans totally ignore and misunderstand. Hearts are breaking to see pictures of children in “cages” and sleeping on mats on the floors. “How inhumane! How terrible! These poor children fleeing from ‘war-torn, gang-infested countries’ subjected to the horrible reality of sleeping on a floor, indoor bathrooms, three meals a day, and a heated or cooled room.” How little the majority of North America understands about the reality of the third world (how wonderful their worst condition is on the border).

     Immigration is a hot potato. It appeals to the foundation of Christianity, and when you add children into the mixture, the perfect storm appears. I have watched and read with interest and have listened to the arguments for and against for the last week and a half. Mostly, I have resisted the temptation to comment for fear of ruffling feathers. However, there are many issues about the current situation that people either don’t know or are willfully ignoring. The current crisis is mostly a southern border crisis; so, in this instance, we are not talking about Syrian or Middle Eastern immigrants fleeing war and persecution. The southern border of the United States is being hit with an increasing number of Central American “families” fleeing violence (generally gang violence) and economic hardship in their respective countries. Since I have lived in Central America for the last 34 years of my life, I am pretty sure I understand what is going on.

     In 2014 there were local groups that, for unexplained reasons, began to spread rumors that unaccompanied minors that arrived at the US southern border where automatically given entrance and released into custody of family members in the United States without further checking. And thus began a pilgrimage of hundreds and hundreds of Central American young people. It was a bonanza for sex traffic and slavery trade. There were groups of people literally paying money to families and promising parents that once their children were in the US, the money would flow home. That of course never happened and a great number of those children disappeared into the black hole of sex trade.

     Early this year the rumor mill went to work once again. “Trump hates immigrants; Trump is going to build a wall; Trump this, Trump that.” “But if you have children with you when you cross the border the Americans have to let you go.” And thus began the new crisis. Parents illegally in the U.S. sent home money for “coyotes” to bring their children. Wives whose husbands had been working illegally for years were encouraged to take their children out of school and adventure north with the confidence that if they could make it to the Southern border the U.S. government would be forced to give them “asylum.” People were schooled on how to tell horror stories of gangs, kidnapping, and crime in their neighborhoods. Groups that feed on immigrants, charging enormous sums to cross Mexico and the Southern border, encouraged and profited from the rumors. I can say this because I dealt with several cases among the parents of my students. In the first six months of this year I can count over ten students who have been taken out of school and either sent with coyotes or family members to join parents in the U.S. Right now, I am trying to convince a young man in my granddaughter’s class to finish school and stay here. NONE, I repeat, none of these children were in physical danger or even financial hardship when they were sent. In only one instance did the child travel with a family member, a remote cousin. The majority were turned over to “coyotes” to make the dangerous trip. The youngest children were instructed to call the coyotes mom and dad and were schooled and whatnot to say if they were caught. All of those children were caught at the border, and released into custody of “family” until the court date, which is a joke because they immediately move and disappear into the underground “illegal” world.

Probably two-thirds of the 700 children in Morning Glory have fathers in the United States; most of them have not seen their fathers since early childhood.

There are several very important things those most people totally ignore:

  1. Central and Southern American immigrants are NOT fleeing war-torn countries. Guatemala was the last Central American country to sign a peace agreement and that was in 1996. So, over twenty years have come and gone.
  2. There is NO ongoing POLITICAL persecution or systematic persecution by government officials.
  3. Central America is NOT overrun by drug cartels. Yes, there are drug cartels and yes, there is drug-induced violence, but I highly doubt it would be at a higher ratio than any other major city in the world.
  1. Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador DO have a terrible problem with gangs and gang violence. Extortion and crimes touch just about every community. El Salvador has the worst problem and there are entire towns and communities in El Salvador that are ruled by the gangs. But those areas are well defined and in every country there are areas that are gang-free and relatively safe from gang-related crime. All Central American countries are integrated, and families and people can freely move between the five countries. I know many families who have moved because their children were threatened or the gangs were overrunning their communities. So, if it is gang violence that they are running from, they don’t have to run so far. And it is highly more likely that MS-13 will find you in the Hispanic barrios in the U.S. than in the non-gang infiltrated parts of Central America. Most of this gang problem was exported from the United States. So, perhaps there are those who are fleeing from gang persecution, especially adolescent boys and girls, but the majority of families are not.
  2. Illegal immigration is one of the most destabilizing factors in the existence of thousands of families in Central America.

• Countless children are being raised in fatherless homes. This is especially significant when you take into account that Hispanic females, especially Mayan descent females, are not educated to make decisions or be self-sufficient. Most females in Latin America are raised to be obedient and subservient to their fathers and ultimately to their husbands. I have many moms who are unable to make simple decisions about their homes and children without calling their husband in the United States to ask permission. To the extent of last week a child needed stitches and we couldn’t get permission for emergency care because the father was at work and couldn’t answer the phone. This has caused a terrible vacuum in the education and discipline of adolescent children. Mothers who can’t make their children go to bed or even to school. I had a seventh grade girl whose father would send the monthly money in her name, and she would administrate it as she saw fit. Probably two-thirds of the 700 children in Morning Glory have fathers in the United States; most of them have not seen their fathers since early childhood. Their father is just the person who sends them money and stuff.

• This exodus of males, single and married, has left an imbalance of male-female ratio that has further destabilized which families are left. Since the chances of finding a single mate are thin, young girls set their caps at married men and destroy homes, and lives and the cycle repeats itself over and over. Many women are left to live alone with no hope of finding a life mate. There are villages and communities in Guatemala where there are no healthy males between 18 and 60.

• In order to pay the “coyote” (the going rate is over $10,000 a head) people go to loan sharks to finance their pilgrimage north. They sign a bill of sale for their homes and property in order to get this “loan.” If the loan shark is honest, once they pay off the loan the loaner will sign another bill of sale essentially giving their land and home back. The operative word here is honest. At 10 percent monthly interest the immigrant must send $1,000 a month home just to cover the interest on the loan. This is assuming that they begin to work the minute their feet hit North American soil. If not, next month they owe interest on $11,000 and on and on. When they can no longer keep up, the loan shark takes possession and the wife and children no longer have even a simple home and land. So, instead of helping their family they sink them even deeper into poverty and debt. (I could tell you stories of people who I have convinced to take that same $10,000, invest it in a business, and stay in Guatemala. They have paid their debt and their family is doing well.

7. The children of immigrants lack cultural identity, neither fully Guatemalan nor North American. Not accepted by Guatemalans, not accepted by North Americans, they become ripe fodder for the identity of belonging to a gang. Anthropologists explain this is the main reason gangs are filled with Hispanic young people.

8. Immigration is NOT the answer to world poverty. The United States is not the only place on earth that a person can prosper and have “the American Dream.” The same dream is possible anywhere in the world with education, hard work, and dedication; perhaps not as easy, but it is possible.

9. If the U.S. government were to give “get passed go card” to every adult taking a child across the border it would open up a Pandora’s box of kidnapping, smuggling, and child abuse unimaginable to the North American mind.

In Conclusion: What is the Christian thing to do? How should the church respond? First of all by making informed decisions and not listening to the panic-motivated discourse of the press.

• The children are not suffering horrible mistreatment. Central American children grow up tough. Most of them learn responsibilities of caring for younger siblings from a very tender age. In their humble homes they sleep on straw mats (if they are blessed) on dirt floors. If they are so lucky as to have a bed, they will sleep as many as six to a bed. They use outdoor latrines if available; if not, the cornfield will do. They have no concept of a hot water bath as most of them bathe standing by the family “pila” (the cement tank where water is gathered) or the plastic drum. If God is good to their family, they eat one full meal a day and meat only once a week. The other meals consist of tortillas and coffee; beans, if they are lucky; and maybe an egg and piece of sweet bread. Many children eat tortillas and salt for breakfast and supper. So, please don’t cry about the inhumane conditions, because for most children, it is better than anything they have known.

• The separation is necessary to determine the parentage of the children. Many children are traveling with coyotes and the people who are using them as pawns. They have formed an attraction to the adult because it is the only protector that they have known for weeks as they pass through Mexico.

• And if the church truly wants to stop illegal immigration and the separation of children and parents, then invest in mission organizations working in the Central American and Hispanic countries to educate and train young men and women to work and stay in their community and culture and make a difference. We need money to start trade schools, money to fund education, and money to help single mothers support their children to allow them to go to school instead of working on the streets to help feed the family; organizations that build homes for the poor, organizations that teach Biblical principles and not only feed the hungry, but teach the hungry to “fish” and feed their families. Many of these organizations are closing their doors because of lack of funding.

• Once it is determined that the need for asylum is real and the family is reunited then how about the local church opens their doors and the empty bedrooms to sponsor a family? Instead of sending the families off into the shadows of the ghetto, how about the older men teaching the father a trade, the older women teaching a young mother Proverbs 31 principles, and young men and women modeling Christian principles and life lessons for the older children? Can you imagine what a worldwide impact the church would have if they each one took in a family.

   All I ask is you read with an open mind and realize that nothing is gained from throwing stones at President Trump, or even ex-presidents Obama or Bush. Even less is to be gained by copying and pasting “news” articles on social media. Please realize that there are wolves in sheep’s clothing, minions of the evil one dividing, destabilizing, and pitting brother against brother for their own nefarious motives that I can assure you have nothing to do with Christ or Christianity. I hope and pray you will decide to be part of the solution, and not perpetuate the problem.