Fabiola Santiago

Fabiola Santiago: Greatest nation should show mercy to immigrant children in need

Pity the fleeing Central American children – victims, many times over.

Pity also the dark side of this country, the people who flutter peacock feathers to croak that this is the greatest nation in the world but aren’t able to get past their xenophobia and be merciful to the suffering children of neighbors.

Hate misses no occasion to make an appearance – and the arrival at the U.S.-Mexico border of thousands of children from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador is no exception.

If they were rich, they would be fleeing their circumstances with tourist or student visas, arriving in style at Miami International Airport. But they’re poor and have no choice but to resort to human smugglers and dangerous multiple-country treks.

Send the National Guard to help the Border Patrol stop them, urged House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, in a letter to President Barack Obama that reads more like a response to an act of war than an unaccompanied minors’ exodus.

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“How can we sit by and watch this country’s national sovereignty be violated over and over and over on our southern border?” demagogue Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-SC, retorted Tuesday during a House hearing, words that serve no purpose other than to inflame passions.

He wasn’t alone during the Homeland Security hearing on “Dangerous Passage: The Growing Problem of Unaccompanied Children Crossing the Border.” Most of the Republican congressmen were on the warpath against the children, their parents, and while they were at it, comprehensive immigration reform. Likewise on the Senate end, Republican senators turned a Homeland Security confirmation hearing into an indictment of immigrants.

And how deplorable that Christopher Crane, president of the National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council – the union that represents 7,000 immigration employees, a man who is supposed to be a professional, not a hater – is sarcastically complaining on social media about “babysitting” as a new role, among other inappropriate anti-immigrant rants.

The national media covering this story is calling the arrival of unaccompanied minors, estimated to soon reach 65,000, “a humanitarian crisis at the border.”

And a humanitarian crisis it is. But it’s not an issue confined to border states.

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The families of arriving children live in all our communities, including South Florida, where the Honduran mother of a 10-year-old boy in a federal detention center has made an emotional public plea to be reunited with her son.

“These children should really be seen as war refugees,” said Francisco Portillo, president of the long-established Miami advocacy group, Francisco Morazán Honduran Organization, echoing the mother’s plea.

The causes for flight are manifold. Some children are fleeing the violence of criminal gangs trying to recruit them. Many want to be reunited with parents who left them to help their families by working in the United States. All are affected by the growing insecurity and poverty in the region.

They’re refugees seeking sanctuary, but they’re not finding much kindness.

“Undocumented Alien Children” is the new loaded term to dehumanize the protagonists of the most human of stories. UAC, in shorthand, and being used as a Twitter hash tag by journalists and advocates who should know better.

The greatest nation in the world can start showing a little more compassion by not labeling these minors “aliens,” and for once, treat them like what they are: children in need.

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