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8/11: As Migrant Children Face Backlash, Communities Mobilize to Drown Out Hate (2)
Released 04 September 2014  By Laurie Smolenski - Waging Nonviolence

(...Continue from Part One)

The bus carrying those children never made it to the detention facility in Murrieta, and similar events have unfolded across the country. There have been coordinated national actions to protest the migrants. On July 8, the Texas town of League City passed an ordinance that would ban undocumented children from being processed and detained in its municipality. A Republican state legislator in Arizona proudly turned away a bus of kids on July 15, only to learn they were YMCA campers.

Again I ask: What does it feel like to bear such hatred? What compels a person to bang against the windows of a bus carrying children? What did those people feel as they saw the faces of young immigrants on the other side of the glass? Did they know most of the kids hadn’t seen their parents in months, perhaps longer? That they had clung atop a moving train, gone without food and water and walked across a desert to traverse the border alone because back home children were being murdered? The United States, the young boys and girls must have believed, was a nation with a respect for human rights.

It is important to place this border surge into historical context, considering the role of U.S. foreign policy — namely military and economic intervention — in directly contributing to today’s violence and unrest in Central America, especially in Honduras. The U.S. government has a long history of destabilizing democratically elected governments in the region, having heavily funded bloody right-wing dictatorships throughout the 1980s. In fact, some of Central America’s most murderous gangs, including the infamous Mara Salvatrucha, formed in Los Angeles among men displaced by those civil wars. Many gang members were eventually deported back to Central America, where the gangs flourished. Then the 2004 Dominican Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement restructured trade relations in the region, passing off unprecedented power to U.S. corporations, shrinking the Central American job market and crippling local economies. More recently, the U.S.-backed 2009 Honduran coup that ousted democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya opened the doors to further corruption and violence.

As a result of these interventions, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has been reporting extreme violence and abuse in the Central American countries of Honduras — widely considered the murder capital of the world — Guatemala and El Salvador, the three countries from where the majority of the children are fleeing. In the United States, asylum claims from those countries have increased exponentially, though the United States is not the only country experiencing this spike. Mexico, Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Belize combined have documented a more than 400 percent increase in asylum applications by individuals from these three countries.

The numbers fully undermine attempts of some opponents to blame the influx on Obama’s administrative relief policy Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which they say has been a magnet for young people to travel to the United States. In reality, as United Nations’ interviews with the minors reveal, these kids are fleeing sexual abuse, violence, hunger and coercion to join gangs. They were faced with a decision no child should ever have to face, and they chose to escape, knowingly risking their lives because whatever they were fleeing was worse. The United Nations has underscored that many of these migrants qualify for refugee status, but the U.S. government has been failing to provide legal representation to minors, some as young as 10, who are facing deportation. How can we expect children — many of whom speak only indigenous languages and may not read or write, and who have not received support services for the trauma they have undergone — to stand alone in a courtroom and mount their own defense as to why their lives are worth protecting?

Just as the eyes of the international community turned with horror to Anniston, Ala., the world is now watching. America: These days will be remembered in infamy.

In New York City that morning, as the anti-immigrant group’s chants continued, a black female pastor moved to the middle of our group. She was a slim but stately woman with angular features and a booming voice. In a most oracular moment, she began to sing “We Shall Overcome,” the protest anthem of the civil rights movement. The gospel choir began to sing with her, and their voices soon reached the edges of our crowd. We all joined them, the hymn ringing beautifully in the voices of many different tongues. The hateful taunts were drowned out, and songs of freedom resonated high toward the skyscrapers overhead.

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