Where Have All the Children Gone?

DISCLAIMER: This blog post is NOT written on behalf of World of Children Award and in no way reflects the position of World of Children Award, its Board of Governors, or its sponsors. This is written solely and exclusively as a personal observation and expresses solely my personal experiences and my personal opinions. -- Harry Leibowitz.

In the first decade of the 20th century, my grandparents set out on foot, with barely the clothing on their backs from Eastern Europe hoping to find safety somewhere. They were escaping the pogroms of Czarist Russia and the growing anti-Semitism all around them. They walked over 2,000 miles and every place they stopped they were unwelcome...until 19 months later they were able to board a ship and come to the United States. Had the US not welcomed them or deported them, they surely would have died a horrible death; but because they were welcomed here, they made a life for themselves and their families. I am here to bear witness and make testimony to their courage and to the great caring of the people of the United States.

During the early stages of WWII every western nation, the USA included, turned away boatloads of Jews trying to escape the Nazi factories of death. They were sent back and perished in Auschwitz, Belsen and the other labor and death camps.

Now we have tens of thousands of children running for their lives from dictatorships no better than the Czars and from certain enslavement in the gangs of Honduras and Guatemala. See this statement from a Nun on the scene.

Are we, once again, going to turn our backs on these children and send them back to a horrible fate, or will we be the compassionate and caring people that our Statue of Liberty proclaims? "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore, send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door."

Why have we become so xenophobic or so inured to the plight of these children that we can turn our backs on them after they have proven their determination by struggling through a trek of hundreds of miles, swamps, rivers, cold and hunger to reach this "lamp beside the golden door?" How can the same people who abhor abortion turn around and then send these living children back to an uncertain future and possible death? How can we mourn the loss of 80 children in the horrific take down of Malaysia Flight 17 over the Ukraine and turn our backs on these children who have pinned their hopes for safety and a better future on us?

We are, after all, the richest nation on earth. We have vast resources and wealth that we eagerly deployed to make war in Iraq and Afghanistan. A post on Google states. "Daniel Trotta NEW YORK, March 14 (Reuters) -- The U.S. war in Iraq has cost $1.7 trillion with an additional $490 billion in benefits..."

That conflict is now over. Could we not spend 5% of that sum...just 5% and make these children safe and productive members of our society? Maybe the next great Nobel Prize winner is among them, maybe the next great author or inventor is there...and, if nothing else, we could go to bed at night knowing that we saved these vulnerable children, that we did not send them back to a horrible fate.

Politics aside, and I know there are political forces arrayed against these children, believing they will "take jobs away from Americans," take "school seats away from American children," or use up our "limited" health care facilities. Frankly, none of this is true. These are excuses for our xenophobia. Nonetheless, in the end, we have a responsibility to our own history and our own ethics.

First of all, before we send any unaccompanied child back we should do our homework and make a concerted effort to assure that there is a responsible family member at the other end who at least has a chance to protect and defend that child.

Second, if we cannot, after investigation, find a family member to care for the child, we should ask the court to make the child available for immediate adoption in the United States, cutting through the "normal" red tape that requires huge amounts of money and takes forever. There are so many families in the USA wanting, waiting to adopt a child. I know because my father was adopted and now my daughter has adopted our grandchild and it is the greatest blessing we have (also see bothendsburning.org)

Third, after all this is sorted out, we should make arrangements for those remaining children to stay in the United States. We should develop a public/private partnership to create "Youth Villages" on the model developed by Dr. Chaim Peri in Israel and used by such notables as Ms. Anne Heyman of Florida (deceased) in Rwanda to rescue, educate and socialize hundreds of young people who survived the genocide there.

Finally, we must secure our borders or, for sure, we will be overrun with refugees not just from Central America but from all over the world, and then we will not have the capacity to help anyone. Additionally we need to mount a campaign in these countries making it clear that people must follow the law and the process to come to the USA or they will be turned away at the border.

If we, as an incredibly wealthy nation of 314 million people cannot absorb 10,000 or 100,000 children...then what are our real values...where is our Judeo-Christian ethic?

I beg the American leadership, the American people, to reconsider their position and to hearken back to those words on the Statue of Liberty, for if we do not, then we might just as well take down that beacon of freedom and store it away someplace very dark where it will never be seen again...

..."Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore, send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door."