A different set of values is now on display, as a new surge of migrants from Central America is fleeing northward toward the United States. Many are escaping extreme violence, while others are yearning for a better life for themselves and their families. Upon their arrival at the American border, the United States is placing these people—including children—in appalling physical conditions, needlessly turning an immigration challenge into a humanitarian crisis.
The policies currently in effect include stripping kids from their families, holding them in conditions unfit for human health, and prioritizing their incarceration over placing them with family or guardians. Every news cycle brings to light new revelations that tug at our hearts: young children caring for infants; kids covered in food and filth, sleeping on cold floors with the lights always on; officials arguing that “safe and sanitary” doesn’t mean providing soap or toothbrushes, let alone the mental-health services children going through traumatic experiences require.
While immigration is a complex issue, we are entirely capable of both securing our borders and treating migrants humanely. Even in this moment when nearly every debate feels polarized, Americans should all be able to agree at least on the paramount importance of protecting and caring for the children involved.
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Back in 2014, the makeshift facility at Lackland Air Force Base was open for four months and cared for more than 3,600 children. There were more than 100 Spanish-speaking case workers whose primary task was connecting kids with family, so that Border Patrol officers weren’t in charge of caring for children—a task they were never trained to do.
Officials arranged for English, math, and art classes—and sports—for migrant children; citing budgetary reasons, the present administration has canceled such vital services. Five years ago, children slept in dormitories with beds and blankets, not on ice-cold floors. And dozens of medical staff and resources were available, from a clinical psychiatrist to a mobile medical unit for contagious children, which kept dangers such as flu and lice from spreading.
I was proud that so many organizations, inside and outside of government, came together so quickly to make a terrible situation for these children somewhat better. But the way migrant children are treated today is reprehensible. It defies the values of this country and shirks our responsibility as both Americans and humans. And history will not treat these choices kindly.
We cannot continue these inhumane policies. To alleviate the suffering of migrants, and especially children, there are obvious steps we should take now:
First, the policy of separating children from their families must end. Journalists and lawyers report that hundreds of children are still being separated from their families—more than 900 since June 2018.