|Lake Suchitlan - Feb 2013|
This summer, my niece needed a job. Like many college grads, she is searching for a way to survive until she finds that career in which she will thrive. Prospects for a 2-3 month job near home in the middle of the USA were difficult to find, so she took a childcare job in Spain. The job did not turn out to be all sunshine and roses, but she had a good place to live, was well fed, got to see new places and made a little money. As US citizens, we take it for granted that if we have the resources, we can hop on a plane and move ourselves to find work or take a break from work or learn about the world. How many times have I heard, "Your US passport is your ticket to anywhere," or "Your US passport is your guarantee of safety." Of course this is not true if you fit a certain ethnic profile or you struggle economically. Still, for my niece it was pretty easy to migrate.
The economy in Spain is in a slow recovery. Their unemployment rate for recent college grads is well above the 12% rate recently cited in the US. I can imagine that Spanish politicians and parents and young adults might have a little attitude about a US 20-something coming in and taking a job which could have gone to a Spanish citizen. Yet, my niece has a skill that was needed - fluency in US English and in Spanish. Spanish visa and immigration policies allowed for the easy crossing of borders for work. My niece entered, worked, and went home to her family.
This management of the border makes sense. Enter, work, go home to the family, repeat as necessary. Let's face it, we have all kinds of work that either we cannot do because of lack of qualified persons (been in a physics lab lately?) or deficit in the quantity of persons needed to do the work (as in agriculture). The jobs are not all sunshine and roses, but they provide money for families and opportunities to learn.
Most families, wherever they live, want to be together in their homes. Most families will sacrifice some time together so that a parent can travel for work. What would it be like...for the thousands of Salvadoran children who have traveled alone to the US southern border so that they can be united with mommy or daddy or both...if the US had efficient, functional immigration policies which allowed parents to enter, work, go home, and return to work if need be? I know, many critics will counter with the argument that everyone will overstay their visas and no one will go home. But, if it were not so crazy difficult to get a visa, if people didn't have to sneak into the US to find work, if we figured out a way to bring all of those who are living in the shadows out with a plan that would preserve families, I believe the separation culture of sneaking and overstaying could be broken.
Children are coming to the border, as are adults for many reasons, but it has become clear that one of the main reasons is because they want to be with their parents. As one Salvadoran woman said to me, "It is not natural for creatures to abandon their young. The young are not protected." (She always calls people "creatures.")
A few years ago, a friend came to me overcome with worry. His wife had left to go work in the US some time before to help support the family. He could not go due to health reasons. She could not risk returning to El Salvador and losing her work in the US. The marriage suffered. They agreed to divorce. Their two little girls missed their mom. Unknown to the father, the mom arranged for the girls to travel to the US with a coyote. The dad woke up one morning and the girls told him they were leaving. They were age 12 and age 8. He could not stop them. At the time he talked with me, he had not heard from them for 10 days. The last he had heard was that they were walking across Guatemala.
A few days later, he learned that they had safely made it to the US. Now they live with their mom. They miss their dad, but there is no way they can come to see him. They send him photos. Photos can cross borders. I think God intended that creatures could too.