Merry Christmas? Not for thousands of children
These are tumultuous times and we approach Christmas, a season in which the old “peace and love” slogan is supposed to become more than nice words, with a disquieting sense of foreboding, a pervasive feeling of anything-can-happen.
Please, no Merry Christmas and Happy New Year greetings for me this time around. Sorry to be a party pooper, but somehow the cheerful season greetings sound hollower than ever, as if they were nothing more than fake, tired social conventions.
The reason? The holidays are supposed to be a time for family, love, peace, a celebration of faith, a welcoming, unique time for forgiveness. But then the fact that close to 15,000 children will spent Christmas languishing in detention by immigration authorities slaps you hard in the face. And the tragedy of a 7-year-old Guatemalan girl who died while in the custody of immigration authorities hits you like a ton of bricks. And you are repulsed by the heartless excuses and callous responses to such tragedy by the “authorities,” the very same people responsible for it.
Inevitably, if you have any humanity left and your faith is not just an empty pose, being merry and happy become an offense to human dignity at what is supposed to be the holiest time of the year.
The Trump administration denies it of course, but this is an unforgivable humanitarian crisis. According to the Department of Health and Human Resources 14,700 minors -- the majority of them from Central America -- are interned in a network of more than 100 centers operating at a capacity of 92 percent. And even though President Trump has repeatedly accused them of being criminals, invaders, gang members, the children who arrive alone at the border do so not as “illegal immigrants” trying to take advantage of the rich neighbor to the North, but as asylum seekers desperate to save their lives threatened by murderous gangs, corrupt governments and hopeless poverty, conditions created, supported or encouraged by years of U.S. abuse and exploitation of their countries.
Their parents had sent them in their uncertain journey hoping the children would be taken in by relatives or friends living in the U.S. and be safe in the powerful nation that proclaims itself to be a beacon of human rights.
It always was an arduous, punishing process for the children and their families, but the Trump administration’s devious approach to immigration has turned getting released from detention into something close to hell on earth.
With the excuse of wanting to protect the children, they fingerprint the people who come forward to take responsibility for the minors and send that information not only to the police and the FBI data banks, but to ICE, effectively using the minors as bait. More than 170 potential immigrant sponsors have been arrested so far, the great majority of them without having committed any crime. As a result, people are reluctant to serve as sponsors and children are kept in detention for much longer periods of time.
These are tumultuous times and we approach Christmas, a season in which the old “peace and love” slogan is supposed to become more than nice words, with a disquieting sense of foreboding, a pervasive feeling of anything-can-happen. And with good reason, because neither Donald Trump – the man who ridiculously has said he wants to “put Christ back in Christmas” -- nor his minions know the meaning of compassion, solidarity or even justice.
When in a few days you sit down for a family dinner at the holiest time of the year, keep in mind that for the 15,000 children languishing in immigration detention centers it will be a sad Christmas. And don’t forget to say a prayer for Jakelin Caal Maquin, the little girl from Guatemala who died of dehydration and exhaustion while in the custody of immigration authorities.
A very strange way of “putting Christ back in Christmas”.