United States (MNN) – Thousands of undocumented families have been separated from each other while attempting to enter the United States for asylum.
Recently, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security would enforce strict deterrent measures on those attempting to cross the United States-Mexico border illegally.
Sessions said there would be a “zero tolerance” policy and anyone caught unlawfully immigrating would be prosecuted.
However, Sessions has also stated, “If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law. If you don’t like that, then don’t smuggle children over our borders.”
Unaccompanied Children Fleeing Violence
Between October 2017 and December 2017, more than 7,635 unaccompanied children were resettled in the United States. Most of these children were fleeing violence in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.
“Children have been fleeing out of the Northern Triangle in Central America for about ten years and each year it gets increasingly worse, meaning that the transnational gangs have moved in about 15 years ago to the extent that it has become very, very difficult for families to function safely in those countries,” Bethany Christian Services’ Dana Anderson says.
For the last 15 years, Anderson has been working with children and families who’ve fled violence and conflict. She has seen the changes of strains in the people’s native countries as well as in the United States.
“They don’t come until the push factors have gotten so bad that it’s literally– it’s either run or they’ll be killed,” Anderson says.
“In the last two years in particular, the number of unaccompanied children that are entering into the United States asking for protection – it’s in the thousands. There’s 40 to 50 thousand children a year that make this journey.”
The journey Anderson refers to is dangerous as families and, many times, unaccompanied children leave their country and make their way north through Mexico and up to the United States.
Along this path, there are threats of human trafficking, kidnapping for ransom, and rape.
Yet, families and children are still trying to make their way to the border, trying to step onto American soil to request asylum.
“According to U.S. law, that’s acceptable,” Anderson says.
“That’s how people need to do that. They can’t ask for asylum until they’re on U.S. soil. So, this narrative that people are entering illegally is not accurate. Everybody has the right to cross an international border for protection and ask for help and that’s what these families are doing. That’s what these children are doing and we should not only because the Gospel calls us to, but our laws call us to help.”
Yet because of Sessions’ and the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security’s enforcement, asylum is not being granted and children are being separated from their parents.
Separation from Parents Defined as Torture
Amnesty International argues that this separation and new policy change is inhumane. Yet, the Washington Post shares that by the United Nations’ definition, it’s also torture.
“any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or her or a third person information or a confession, punishing him or her for an act he or she or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed.”
The Washington Post reports that without parental support, children will often face stunted physical growth, develop mental impairments, and have higher stress and anxiety levels. Depending on the length of time separated from parents or parental figures, children can develop lasting problems.
“The problem is that initial separation and then the length of time they’re separated – that’s when the trauma is occurring.” Anderson says the way children are separated from their families also contributes to their trauma.
“It’s done very abruptly,” she says. “The children aren’t prepared. They don’t understand what’s happening… There’s very little sensitivity around their developmental needs.”
Foster Care and Family Reunification
Governmental escorts have brought or referred children to Bethany.
If a child’s parents are found and they are in a safe location and situation, Bethany will help reunite the children with their families. However, this is not always the case and Bethany may have to put children in the process of transitional foster care.
“Then our job is to find their parents or family members who would be willing to sponsor them and then work through that sponsor process which can take anywhere from two, three weeks, to a few months,” Anderson says.
If children have family members in the country, Bethany will work to secure a place with them. If they don’t, Bethany will work to find a foster family.
“Within the last couple weeks, we’ve received referrals for 28 children to come into our program. Twenty-six of them have been separated from parents at the border,” Anderson says.
“These are young children. These are children five and under at times. We have an 18-month-old who’s been separated. We have a three-and-a-half-year-old who’s been separated from a mother.”
Anderson shares that she recently spoke with a foster parent who saw the pain and grief in the five-year-old boy she is taking care of. He often cries himself to sleep and clutches onto a laminated paper napkin with stick figure drawings of his family because that is all he was allowed to bring with him.
Seeing how scripture calls people to love children, orphans, and refugees, Bethany is acting that out by serving these children and ensuring they are either reunited with their families or placed with families who will love them.
“We have this humanitarian crisis right now happening in the United States and we believe that God has called us to step into this crisis and to care for these children while they’re in the midst of chaos,” Anderson says.
Be a Voice for Broken Families
Today, join Bethany in prayer for these children and families that have been separated. Pray God will bring peace into their lives and that He will reunite them. Pray He will settle the violence in the people’s native countries and restore safety so they can live without fear.
Bethany also invites you to be a foster family to these refugee children. These children need a light, they need hope, and they need support as they’ve lost everything, even their families. Be a family to them and show the grace, love, and goodness of God.
“There are hundreds of children that are being separated from families at the border, little ones,” Anderson says.
“The public needs to be aware of this and calling their representatives and their congressmen and advocating that this isn’t the American way. This isn’t our ideals, this shouldn’t be happening in 2018 on U.S. soil. We should be caring for children. We should be loving children. We should be stepping in and helping and not furthering their trauma.”