Migrant Children Deserve Better Than the Border Crisis

As the numbers of children and youths amassed in U.S. detention centers are skyrocketing, with a 57 percent increase from this time last year alone, the Trump administration cancelled the meager education, recreation and legal services it’s legally bound to provide by a federal court.

This unconscionable move by an administration that continually proves itself tone deaf to the humanitarian needs of vulnerable children is intolerable.  

Separated from their parents or guardians and living in cages disguised as detention camps on U.S. soil, these minors have never been more in need of educational resources, physical outlets and, of course, legal guidance. To deny them these basics is to treat these young people as less than human.

Girls reading in the library at the San Isidro school in Sololá, Guatemala. Each year, Child Aid donates tens of thousands of children’s books and trains hundreds of teachers in literacy instruction, giving Guatemalan children access to the quality education they need and deserve. (Anna Watts)

I know these children. These are the very children I’ve had the honor of serving as CEO of Child Aid, a U.S.-based nonprofit literacy organization working in Guatemala for nearly two decades. I’ve seen the palpable changes that these same children undergo when provided with well-trained teachers in classrooms that have adequate books and educational materials.

Any parent reading this knows what it feels like to see the light of understanding coming on in the eyes of their child. At Child Aid, we see that lightbulb moment every day in the thousands of children we serve, but we also know how easy it is to extinguish. I mourn for the lights going dark as these migrant children languish, separated from their parents and threatened with the cessation of the small opportunities they have to maintain hope and the small normalcy of educational activities.

Does our nation have the stomach for doling out this abusive treatment? Have we forgotten these are children?

A young boy reads a story together with Child Aid Literacy Trainer Meliza Chacon at the Chuimanzana school in Chimaltenengo, Guatemala. (Livvy Runyon)

My organization works in some of the poorest communities in Guatemala, where 79 percent of the indigenous people live in poverty while 40 percent live in extreme poverty and nearly half of Guatemalan children under the age of five are chronically malnourished. Is it any wonder that only one in ten students in these communities graduates from high school?

Child Aid works to turn the tide—and, through literacy, empower the next generation of Guatemalans to have more agency in their own lives. To date, we’ve improved the literacy rates of nearly 67,000 children. But our efforts alone are not enough.

To truly attack the root causes of the current migration crisis, these vulnerable youth and their families need systematic quality education, decent healthcare, employment and a government willing to enforce the rule of law. 

As a morally-centered people we should not allow our government to besmirch our values by denying the least powerful among us the right to learn, play and have legal advisement. 

About

Nancy Press is co-founder and CEO of Child Aid. She was trained as an anthropologist and is professor emerita at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, Oregon.