How the immigrant children at the border remain unseen

By Victor Landa, NewsTaco

With an estimated 90,000 Central American children expected to reach the U.S. border by the end of the year, you’d think that the American media would be flooded with stories and reports about those children and the cause to provide relief. But that hasn’t been the case. There are stories, hundreds of them, but few, if any, are about the children, their plight or the reasons that brought them to our border.

What we’ve been reading, so far, is an extension of the narrative we’ve come to expect.  What we’ve been hearing is a tired and relentless single story. I’ll defer to Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie to explain:

How to create a single story: show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become.

Case in point: Vice President Biden traveled to Guatemala last week on what the White House described as a public relations effort to curb the immigration of children from that country.

This is what he told the Guatemalans: the U.S. will begin detaining families at the border; don’t send your kids because there will be no free pass to remain the the United States.

Keep in mind, Biden was talking to the parents of children who are traversing Mexico alone, their lives in peril, as if  it hadn’t occurred to those mothers and fathers that there might be a better way, as if the reason those parents were exposing their kids to extreme danger and hardship was to take advantage of American largess. This is hardly a public relations campaign. But it appeases the American audience that sees only the one story: the flood of unaccompanied children is an immigration issue, that is happening at the border, because their parents think their kids will be accepted, fed and clothed.

And here’s what that one story assumes: that Honduran, Guatemalan and Salvadoran parents are heartless, scheming and naive. Why else would they believe human traffickers and put their children in danger to game the American system? It puts the blame where it’s most comfortable – “over there, with those people, who don’t know better, who want to take advantage of us.”

This is the same narrative that labels human beings as “illegal” because they come to this country with no documents, when the worst crime the undocumented have committed by being in the U.S. is a civil violation; when crossing the border with no documentation is a mere misdemeanor. It’s the same narrative that justifies a wall along an imaginary border.  It’s a narrative that wags a finger at everyone – the President, the immigrants; that provides a scheming “other;” that bolsters the idea of American exceptionalism at the cost of everyone else’s envious mediocrity.

Meanwhile an expected 90,000 children will reach the border – some fleeing crime and violence gone rampant because of ineffective governments; others fleeing abject poverty; and many traveling across Mexico to reunite with their parents, already in the U.S., who’ve sent for them.

The story we want to hear and argue about is the one that allows us to chastise the federal government for feeding the immigrant children because all that does is encourage more of them to come (my dad used to say that about feral cats … ). We want to hear how the crisis was generated by America’s greatness and Central America’s second-rate parents. We want a narrative that will justify putting tens of thousands of children on buses, to “send them back” as Hillary Clinton advised.

There is no place for children in this story.  They’ve become an unexpected tangent, so we rein them in and tuck them neatly under the one story we know and expect. And by doing that they become unseen.

[Photo courtesy office of Rep. Henry Cuellar]

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