The stories of the more than 52,000 children trapped in overcrowded immigration detention facilities are heartbreaking. Fleeing rampant violence in their native countries, they have trekked across scorching deserts, crossed treacherous rivers, and braved inconceivable horrors to make it to America. But as local governments grapple with the refugee crisis, many African Americans are questioning whether the U.S. should be spending billions of dollars to care for these young immigrants.
During the highly publicized protests in Murrieta, Calif., that led to busloads of immigrant children being turned away, a discussion broke out among African American protesters that echoes conversations being had both on- and offline.
In a clip filmed by Citizen’s News on July 4, one impassioned African American man asked another, “If somebody brought six children to your house, are you going to try to find out where they came from? Are you going to try to take them back? Or are you going to try to take care of these children and the children you got that you can’t take care of already?”
The second man replied, “I’m going to do whatever I can do to help.”
President Obama seems to be toeing both sides of the debate. While he asked Congress to amend George W. Bush’s William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 to allow for faster deportations, he also requested $3.7 billion to deal with the crisis at the border and invest in Central American nations.
The idea of helping Central American countries deal with the structural problems that drive people to flee sounds great. But in an editorial for The Root, writer Keli Goff articulated the frustration. “If we are complicit in allowing thousands of additional children to follow them here and remain here, soon we will not be able to provide any resources for Dreamers or any other American children, and that would be irresponsible and un-American.”
Chicago continues to deal with rampant gun violence—more than 60 people were shot during the July 4 weekend—and St. Louis, Baltimore, New Orleans, and Oakland, Calif., are some of the most dangerous cities in the world. Yet we rarely hear members of Congress vowing to invest billions of dollars to solve problems in urban centers across our own country.
Many African Americans are wondering how Congress can cut SNAP assistance, nix long-term unemployment benefits, and throw up its hands when it comes to curbing urban violence but then spend billions of dollars to feed, clothe, house, and possibly educate another country’s children.
Instead of investment in urban communities, we get local governments employing tactics like stop-and-frisk that criminalize being black or Latino in the public square. Instead of eliminating structural inequalities in education, health care, and the justice system, we hear politicians lecturing communities of color on the need to develop a solid work ethic and pull themselves up by their bootstraps if they want to succeed.
Immigration activists caution against viewing the situation through an us-versus-them lens.
“We need to realize that black and brown people are both part of the same struggle,” says Luis Serrano of the California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance. “The rich white man has left us to fight for scraps. Throughout the history of America, the U.S. has gone to great lengths to make sure unity among minorities doesn’t occur. We need to search our history and find our unity.”
Serrano lays the majority of the blame for the push to divide African Americans from their immigrant brethren on the media, but he also says the immigrant community needs to do more to forge relationships with other minorities, especially because many Central Americans are of African descent.
“As an immigrant community we have failed to communicate with the black community, especially when we also have black undocumented immigrants,” he says.
The solutions for the current border crisis are as complicated and messy as America’s forays into the countries from which these children are fleeing. Boosting the infrastructure in Central America, decriminalizing drugs in the U.S. to weaken powerful cartels, and investing in communities here at home are just a few steps that may help alleviate the growing unrest on both sides of the border. One thing is for sure: With thousands more kids expected in the coming weeks, the debate is sure to intensify.