The flood of “undocumented” children coming into the U.S. from Central America poses an unsolvable problem for the governments of the U.S. and many of its states. Legislation enacted during the George W. Bush administration prevents sending them back without individualized hearings, and unless Congress appropriates the money requested by President Obama there will not be enough hearings officers to handle things without huge delays.
In the meantime, what happens to these kids?
Of course we cannot assume that Congress will do anything—doing nothing is what it does best!-- and in some respects that is not a bad thing. The horrible economic and security conditions prompting parents to send young children off across Mexico to enter the U.S. without official permission make sending them home pretty close to wholesale child abuse.
In an ideal world, this kind of thing could not happen. In an ideal world individuals and whole families would be just as free to move anywhere in the world as U.S. citizens are free to move to any of our fifty states. In ideal conditions people would consider themselves and all other people to be citizens of the world and would acquire citizenship in particular countries just by moving there, exactly like Americans become citizens of Oregon or Michigan by moving there.
We do not live in an ideal world, and recent headlines from Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, and Nigeria suggest we will not live in an ideal world any time soon. Even so, even without help from Congress, there are steps we can take as individuals and organizations to help these poor children. Even an imperfect world offers many opportunities to help people, to make a significant difference, to light a large number of candles rather than cursing the darkness.
Half a century ago my parents, who were comfortable but not particularly flush, decided to sponsor a child in Hong Kong through one of the several organizations that handle this kind of thing. Their monthly payments helped support my new foster sister Kit (whom I have never met, but corresponded with when my folks died) until she came of age. Several decades ago my wife and I did the same thing, supporting a young boy—Angel--down in Ecuador until he became an adult. My big regret with Angel was that I had forgotten so much of my Spanish that I was never able to communicate very well with him, and we have not kept in touch.
Perhaps one or more of the child support organizations could undertake to connect American families and organizations such as congregations and civic groups with these children when and if they are returned to their parents. Financial support would not solve all of the problems which caused the children to flee, particularly the dangers of just living in countries where crime runs wild and governments are corrupt, but such support could at least make their lives less intolerable.
Critics might object that to put children who had entered the U.S. illegally at the front of the line for economic support when they return home would encourage even more people to send their kids on this highly dangerous journey: “moral hazard,” as it is called. Well, that’s what we get for living in an imperfect world! In an imperfect world doing good sometimes has bad side effects.
But that is not necessarily a reason for doing nothing, and in this case there is an obvious way to avoid the bad side effects: get enough people to support children in these countries so that all the needy children can be supported, not just those who came up to the U.S.