This morning I received an e-mail from the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) soliciting providers of residential services to consider offering much needed services to the growing numbers of children overwhelming the United States southern borders. These children are seeking refuge from violence in their native Central American countries. Since Hillsides’ residential services have such a high utilization level, we do not have the capacity to serve these children. The child welfare system, in general, is ill-prepared for such a large influx of what some are calling “refugees.” However, as an organization committed to serving children who are at-risk of violence, seeing this humanitarian crisis unfold without advocating for these vulnerable children is hard.
There are, of course, political forces at play that use this situation to make a statement about immigration reform. The voices on either side are loud, provocative, and intended to polarize. In the midst of the shouting matches and the intimidating confrontations are the children. These children, who flee the violence and instability of their home country, find themselves the victims of the intransient forces that have brought the political process in our country to a grinding halt.
The current system, though painstakingly slow, will return these children back to their counties of origin. What refuge they sought will be denied in favor of the principles of law and order. The dangers they encountered on their perilous journey were for naught. The hopes they had for a life free from violence, intimidation, and poverty will be deferred if not dashed to pieces.
As all this unfolds so close to our Independence Day celebrations, I cannot help but feel sad for these poor children and also for our country as we are unable to honor the valiant efforts of these desperate children and youth to be free of violence.
If we cannot be a refuge, then the least we can do is treat these refugees with dignity and respect. Although, as an organization we do not have the capacity to serve these children, I am heartened by the call from DCFS as an agent for the Federal government to find some way to accommodate these children while they are here before being returned.
Given the challenges we face to address the children already in our care, it is hard to imagine how the child welfare system will effectively attend to such an influx of children in need. There is no question that our resources are limited and strained as it is. However, the nightmare that these children entering without legal permission have experienced is traumatizing. If nothing else, they deserve to be treated with the respect and dignity afforded all children, including those who are vulnerable.
Although there may be little we can do, we certainly can remind the loud voices on either side that their political positions do not excuse them or any of us from ignoring the plight of these children and providing for them as best we can while they are among us.
Image source: Murrieta protest over immigrant kids exposes political divisions article published on http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Immigrant-kids-Murrieta-protest-stoke-political-5599341.php; Photo: Gregory Bull, Associated Press