Let the little children come

 MCC Mexico staff Sandra Kienitz plays with children at HEPAC during Uprooted. Uprooted is a Learning & Service Tour for Alberta & Saskatchewan young adults travelling with MCC to the northern and southern borders of Mexico to explore themes of migration and peacebuilding. The three week tour in May, 2014 was hosted by MCC Mexico and West Coast MCC. The rich experience provided young adults the opportunity to learn about themselves, learn about MCC and gain a greater awareness of the barriers faced by peoples in Mexico and countries to the south.

Participants of Uprooted, a 3-week learning and service tour sponsored by MCC, encountered many children. The experience provided young adults from Canada a greater awareness of the struggles faced by peoples in Mexico and countries to the south. MCC Photo/Jennifer Deibert.

By Tammy Alexander, Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office

Just before Christmas, the Washington Post reported that the Obama administration would begin a new series of immigration raids. Immigration raids are, unfortunately, not a new tactic for the administration (Operation Cross Check last year picked up more than 2,000 immigrants, including Mennonite pastor Max Villatoro). A troubling feature of these newest raids, however, is that they target women and children.

In the past few years, the number of migrants seeking asylum—i.e., protection—from the three Central American countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras has risen sharply. This refugee population consists primarily of almost equal numbers of family units (women and children) and unaccompanied minors (usually teenagers).

The reasons they are leaving home vary but include severe gang violence, domestic violence, poverty, and drought. In El Salvador, there are recent reports of police storming into homes and gunning down young men suspected of gang activity. Whether fleeing such police killings, threats from gang members, or an abusive spouse, the fear is real.

Throughout human history, people have migrated to seek safety and refuge in a new land. Numerous stories in the Bible tell of such journeys, from Abram and Sarai fleeing a severe famine (Genesis 12:10), to Ruth leaving Moab after the death of her spouse (Ruth 1), to Mary and Joseph escaping to Egypt with their young son Jesus after his life was threatened by Herod (Matthew 2:13).

How we welcome migrants fleeing such violence and scarcity speaks volumes about us. Jesus was quite clear in Matthew 25:31-46 that how we treat the most vulnerable among us is a reflection of our Christian character.

Millions of immigrants and their families have suffered greatly under a U.S. immigration system that detains and deports so many, needlessly separating husband from wife and child from parent. The deportation of Pastor Max last year from his wife and children is a tragic example of this suffering and injustice.

But there is something particularly distressing about rounding up and deporting children back into harm’s way. The unique vulnerability of children makes it all the more important that policies are in place to protect them.

Urge President Obama to put an end to the raids that are terrorizing communities and sending families and children back into danger. How we receive vulnerable immigrants seeking refuge is a direct reflection upon us. As Jesus said in Matthew 19:14, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”