Apparently, Illinois Senator Mark Kirk has never heard the phrase “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
Or, perhaps he’s heard it, and just doesn't believe it. Maybe that’s the most charitable explanation for his recent suggestion that unaccompanied minor children fleeing chaos and gang violence in places like Guatemala and Honduras are really just criminals looking to exploit U.S. citizens.
Since October, 2013, more than 52,000 children, most from Central America and many unaccompanied by adults, have been caught
coming into the United States by border authorities.
Many, if not all, of the children are fleeing horrible conditions in their home countries. A 2014 report
by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees found 58 percent of the unaccompanied children are motivated by safety concerns, fearing conditions back home.
And for good reason. Conditions in places like Guatemala have moved from a country with a gang and drug problem to more like a failed nation-state
, with a complete breakdown of civil authority and law enforcement. It makes sense families and children living a life of murder
and ongoing violence
would seek the means to flee to a better, more prosperous country.
But that doesn't seem to matter to Senator Kirk. On July 10, he sent a letter to the U.S. ambassadors to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador asking whether their Embassies have performed criminal background checks on the unaccompanied children entering the United States.
In short, Kirk called refugee kids fleeing horrific conditions for a better life “criminals”, saying they represent a “serious threat to our country and communities.”
Imagine what it must be like to be a seven, 10 or 12 year old boy or girl that has to flee a home town filled with violence and murder, only to travel alone
across an entire continent to an unfamiliar land. To place your life and well-being in the hands of strangers who may say they’ll transport you safely, but are just as likely to hurt or kill
you on the way.
The truth is, no one flees a hellhole like that simply for a better chance to be a criminal someplace else. Not as a child.
Yet, that doesn't matter to Kirk. Instead, he’s too busy scoring political points with fellow Republicans and Tea party members who see any immigration activity as a sign America is about to run over by an illegal alien horde. For proof, just look at the fact that Kirk later attempted to blame President Obama
, calling the administration “incompetent” and “Obama’s Katrina” for it’s response to the current crisis.
But Kirk couldn't be more wrong. It goes without saying, after all, that America was founded by taking in those fleeing intolerable conditions back home, and has always had a special place for the children of refugees seeking a better life.
As Emma Lazarus said back in 1883:
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "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!"
Please take note, Senator Kirk. Nowhere in that famous poem does it ay anything about treating children like criminals simply because the want to be Americans.