You may have heard about the unaccompanied minor crisis: thousands of children fleeing across the Mexican border from terrifying situations in places like Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. I have a friend who works with these kids at a temporary shelter and, if you want to know why they’re coming, take it from a teenage girl she works with who said that members of a local gang told her directly they were going to either rape or kill her. To save her own life, she took a very dangerous journey to a country that doesn’t really want her.
I should specify: to a government that doesn’t really want her. A recent poll found that 69% of respondents feel that unaccompanied minors should be treated as refugees. But when President Obama asked Congress for the money required to actually address the situation, the GOP-controlled House shot back with an extremist “message bill” that won’t actually go into law.
The Office of Refugee Resettlement has a tough task. See they’re the ones that have to actually respond to this crisis. But on top of that, they’re already responsible for serving refugees, asylees, and survivors of human trafficking and torture among others. So now they have to do what everyone else does when the money just isn’t there at the end of the month: decide what they can afford to cut out.
Unfortunately for me and the families I work with, they decided to cut out my job. For just a short time longer, I’m responsible for guiding newly arrived refugees through the immense bureaucracy of Chicago Public Schools. What happens when something like that gets cut is that the bare minimum responsibilities will be transferred to another department, probably ultimately falling on the shoulders of interns, and the rest will be lost. Families will get registered in school as quickly as possible and then there will be very little followup support.
This is a huge disservice to refugees resettling in the United States, and it’s infuriating because we’ve made a commitment to these people. Republicans can say whatever they want about whether or not that’s a commitment they believe in, but it doesn’t matter because the commitment is already made and until we change the number of refugees we accept, we have a duty to adequately help them transition to life here.
So Congress, instead of honoring our commitments to refugees, serves up mean-spirited and, frankly, racist legislation that doesn’t even give a passing thought to how many of these kids have valid asylum claims. That in turn forces the Office of Refugee Resettlement to cut refugee services in order to reallocate money to address the unaccompanied minor crisis. Far worse than me losing my job — especially because I will be able to transition into a different role in the same program — is the terrible impact this will have on thousands of refugee students in schools across the country.
I don’t really like Democrats, but situations like this one are why I sometimes vote for them.