Sean Bonawitz, ELCA Advocacy

Rethinking Perspectives of Migration in The Northern Triangle

We do not choose where we live, who our families are, or the time that we are born into. We are thrown into the mystery of life. Some land gracefully while others crash and crash hard. For those of us who are born as citizens of the U.S.A., our environment is a stable one. Not without its own challenges, but with general safety. Life is difficult at times for all, but have you ever felt a strong enough presence of danger that forced you to flee from your home? Rarely do we ever look across the Gulf and wonder what our lives would be like had they begun in Honduras, Guatemala, or El Salvador; the Northern Triangle of Central America.

Children and families in the Northern Triangle continue to leave their homes due to complex and interrelated reasons, including chronic violence, poverty, environmental displacement and lack of opportunities. These problems are exacerbated by the failure of governments to address these issues, leaving many with no choice but to flee. Children are forcibly recruited and targeted by gangs as they cross gang territories to attend school. Many business owners are forced to pay a “protection” fee to criminal actors to avoid harm. Although numbers of migrant children and families at the U.S.-Mexican Border have dropped significantly this past year, deportations and detentions of Central Americans along the Southern Mexico Border have increased drastically due to Mexico’s 2014 Southern Border Plan, which is backed by the United States.

Why do we continue to prevent Central Americans access to the protection our nation’s stability has to offer? It is possible we have been labeling migrants from the Northern Triangle incorrectly. So far we have refused to identify them as needing international protection or refugees, but rather, have colloquially categorized these children and families as “illegal immigrants”. The 1951 Refugee Convention under Article 1(A)2 says, “the term refugee shall apply to any person who fear(s) being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion”. Although persecution via gang violence does qualify many of these people for international protection, most children and family members do not qualify as textbook refugees, and fail to receive adequate aid. Why are these persecuted children and family members not regarded as deserving of this legal status? In a region where homicide rates and gang violence run rampant, fleeing from a community culture such as this should qualify these people as refugees.

Those of us who were born in America were handed this privilege by chance, not choice. As one of our founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, once proclaimed, “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights”. We are endowed with, we were gifted these rights as humans and people of God. Our privilege as Americans is that we, as a nation, persistently fight for these values. So why should we deny these rights to others who actively seek acknowledgement of their unalienable rights? Should we not embrace our neighbor with open arms?

We as Americans should provide a safe haven for these refugees and welcome our neighbors, who have shown extreme bravery, courage, and faith. We should listen to the words in Philippians 2:4 which states, “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others”.  We should welcome refugees, as we previously have, and continue the idea of America as “The Great Salad Bowl” of diverse communities. America was founded and forged by immigrant communities. We should not turn away those who seek life, liberty and pursue happiness.