Children hopping on trains. Mothers carrying babies through the desert. Thousands of dollars passing from families to coyotes (smugglers who guide migrants to or across borders).
Stories of the harrowing journey north, stories of abandonment by coyotes, stories of arrest by immigration police, stories of help received along the way, stories of successful border crossings, stories of appeals for sanctuary, stories of deportation. These are not stories of the moment, attractive in their drama to mass media. These are not stories to be twisted for political rants.
We see and hear the stories of thousands of Salvadoran children who left their homes or were sent from their homes by their parents. They leave with a small bundle of clothes. They carry no phones nor phone numbers so that drug thugs or gang members cannot track down their families and demand ransom. They depend on the kindness of family and strangers in Guatemala to give them food and shelter. They sneak across the border into Mexico. They hop onto moving freight trains. The girls fear being raped. They move forward, hanging onto the dream that in the United States they will find work. No matter how hungry they are or how many nights they sleep out in the cold, they are not deterred. They know hunger, and a night in the cold can be safer than a night in a Salvadoran community held captive by gang violence.
These are the driving forces of the journey: the desire for work and the desire to live free from violence.
In Mexico the children find their coyotes. The families have wired the money ahead. Many children and families do not make it beyond northern Mexico. Their coyotes are nowhere to be found or are in jail. Mexican police apprehend families and send them back. The need for food and shelter drive the children to find work in Mexico. There are good people offering shelter and wicked people taking advantage all along the way.
Children take off their shoes and place them and whatever bundle they may still have onto their heads. They cross the river. Children sneak through small breaks in the wall. Children walk into the desert in rugged, unguarded areas. Adults do the same.
Children present themselves to border agents, thinking they are safe. Children who are nearly dead are found by border agents. A few children make it beyond the border and somehow end up with their people. Adults do the same.
Children and adults from El Salvador have the right to a hearing. They are detained in an immigration detention center where conditions are described by the media as "deplorable" where children sleeping on floors. The conditions are not acceptable, but the physical situation is not difficult for Salvadoran children who have spent their lives battling hunger, living in crowded conditions, sleeping on floors and surviving as prisoners in their homes due to violence in their communities.
Officials ask the children, "Why did you come to the United States?"
"I want to help my mom take care of my little brothers and sisters."
"I want to buy my mom a house."
"I want to get adopted."
"There are no opportunities at home."
"The gangs will kill me."
"I want to be with my mom (or dad) who lives here."
The detention centers are over-crowded. Children with family members who have legal documents to live in the US are released to their families. They most often do not report for their court dates. Why? Children and families who ask for asylum through the court system are typically denied. Everyone lives in danger. Everyone might be killed by the gangs. Children who are not released remain in detention for a few months, have their hearing and are usually sent home. Many will try to journey north again. Some will be killed by the gangs they feared. It's the same for adults.
Indigenous tribes once moved across the land bridge from Asia, then across the North American plains with the seasons, following sources of food, sustaining their families. European families moved across the ocean in search of land, religious freedom, escape from hunger, respite from totalitarian regimes. African peoples were moved, made captives by those who had moved before them. War. Disaster. Education. Work. Dreams. Within the US people are constantly moving. Moving for work, moving to be with family, moving to start new lives.
From the fourth grade classroom to the White House, I think we need to ask some questions. What is my story? How have I moved across borders? How have my people moved? What movements would I make to sustain my own life or the life of my children? Would I leave for the good of my family? Would I send my child? What has caused me or would cause me to make the decisions which so many Salvadoran children, youth, moms and dads are making?
Thank you Pastor Ben for your inspiration.