Images of children in cages, of kids screaming for their mothers, of children sleeping under space blankets: these are the images we’ve seen in the news in the past few weeks coming from the border crisis.
These detention centers and the experiences there are real. This is not a drill; the internment of children, for the simple act of coming across the border with a trusted adult, is something happening in America today. These are not crisis actors. They are frightened children. And, as Barack Obama said on Facebook, do we look away, or do we choose to see something of ourselves and our children?
Most of us have chosen to see something of ourselves and our children. We scour the internet, looking at lists of organizations to donate to and innumerable lists of ways to take action: Call your elected officials. Protest. Sign petitions and write letters.
But there’s one thing no one’s talking about. There’s a little-known way you can directly help spring these kids from detention: You can foster what’s called “unaccompanied minors.”
In the past, these were kids who legitimately came over the border either alone, or without a custodial parent — with an aunt, uncle, or friend. Now, many of the kids the government is ripping from their parents’ arms are being grouped under this designation, because they’re separated from their parents. And it’s possible to foster some of them in the short or long term. Meaning, they stay with you — for as short as a week or longer — with the goal of unifying them with their parent or sponsor.
You read that right. You can spring some of these kids from detention and help get them to the people they need to get to.
But it’s not easy. It’s not immediate. Even if you’re already licensed, you can’t just show up and ask for a kid. You have to go through an agency that works with ICE/immigration, such as Lutheran Services (LIRS) or the United States Council of Bishops (USCCB).
It just so happens that LIRS does short-term foster care in my home city. When my husband and I found out, we hemmed and hawed a bit — it’s not exactly convenient for us, for a variety of reasons relating to family schedules — but decided we wanted to do more than post memes. We have an extra room. We have the means. We need to step up. It’ll be a revolving door of kids in our house, and we’re okay with that.
And it is not easy. The paperwork is voluminous; you have to want this. We have a prior home study complete, but even if we can get our hands on that and use parts of it, we’ll have to do a ton of work to obtain our license, including specialized training hours.
We also have to realize that these kids are not ours. These are kids to help temporarily, so they aren’t detained, with the goal of reuniting them with their family as soon as possible.
No, you don’t have to speak Spanish. Some of the local foster families don’t. I am currently trying to learn as much Spanish as I can, and we’re teaching the kids. LIRS says, “The language of love is universal,” and what these kids need, when they come, my caseworker tells me, universally terrified and often angry, is love. A safe place to land. Someone to make them peanut butter and jelly, some tortillas. To try to speak some Spanish, to tuck them in at night, and hug them. And then to return them to their parents and give them up, with love and kindness, when the time comes.
If you can do this, if you can wade through the paperwork to get to that point, they need you. The current crisis may fade. But the unaccompanied minors situation will always be there. You will always be needed.
If you can help, contact your local service provider and get the ball rolling. The process will make your head ache. You’ll write and write and write. You’ll get physicals. You need to be dedicated. But it will pay off. The kids will come to you straight from the detention centers, at least in my case. You will be doing more than posting memes and spreading outrage. You will be quietly, powerfully helping. You will be giving the kids what they really need: love.
But maybe you’re not in a situation to foster. There are lots of good reasons this route isn’t for everyone. We happen to have an extra bed and the life situation to make it work. Others don’t. But that doesn’t mean you can’t help. Most of these organization are desperate for donations. My local organization always needs new suitcases and bags for the kids to carry their stuff in: they move from place to place, and they need something to carry their belongings in. They also need gift cards for treats. Clothes. My local Lutheran Family Services keeps an Amazon wish list. You can contact each organization and simply say, “How can I help?”
They also may need classroom volunteers, people who speak fluent Spanish to help them, people to help with field trips — the list is endless. Their needs are huge. You might not have a bed, but you have your time and talent to give.
You can help show these kids that America is not all ICE agents, space blankets, cafeteria lines and concrete walls. Show them we are a nation that welcomes the immigrant. Show them we are a nation of people capable of great love, of great hospitality. Show them our best face, the face exemplified in the poem inscribed upon Lady Liberty:
Give me your tired, your poor
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free … Send these, your homeless, your tempest-tost, to me I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
Some of you hold the that lamp in your hands. Will you lift it?
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