December 28 is the saints’ day of the Holy Innocents, an appropriate day to think about refugees today. The Gospel of Matthew tells the story: wicked King Herod wants to kill the baby Jesus. Herod tries to trick the wise men into leading him to the baby, but these foreigners escape from his surveillance and return to their own country. An angel comes to Joseph in a dream, warning of the danger to Jesus. Joseph and Mary and the baby flee the country by night, going to Egypt and staying there until Herod dies. In a rage, Herod turns to murder, killing all of the male children under the age of two in Bethlehem and the surrounding area.
Today, Central American refugee children flee gang violence, every bit as deadly as Herod’s rage. Gangs, the New York Times reports, have “alliances not only with politicians, prison authorities and the police,” but also with drug cartels. El Salvador and Honduras suffer extremely high murder rates, which are one indicator of the overwhelming violence that targets young people.
San Pedro Sula in Honduras has had the world’s highest murder rate for four years in a row. According to the New York Times, “In 2014, 1,319 of its 769,025 residents were murdered.”
Compare San Pedro Sula to Minneapolis, which had 32 homicides in 2014. If Minneapolis had San Pedro Sula’s murder rate, that would have been 686 people murdered in the year.
As Joseph and Mary took their baby to safety in Egypt, Central American families and children flee north to the United States. They find no welcome here. Those who are caught at the border face rapid removal, as described in a 2014 Human Rights Watch report:
“At the US-Mexico border, US immigration officers issue deportation orders to unauthorized migrants in accelerated processes known as ‘expedited removal’ or ‘reinstatement of removal.’ These processes include rapid-fire screening for a migrant’s fear of persecution or torture upon return to their home country or an intention to apply for asylum. As detailed in this report, this cursory screening is failing to effectively identify people fleeing serious risks to their lives and safety.”
The Washington Post reports that immigration officials plan a massive deportation of Central American families at the beginning of 2016:
“The Department of Homeland Security has begun preparing for a series of raids that would target for deportation hundreds of families who have flocked to the United States since the start of last year, according to people familiar with the operation.
“The nationwide campaign, to be carried out by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents as soon as early January, would be the first large-scale effort to deport families who have fled violence in Central America, those familiar with the plan said. More than 100,000 families with both adults and children have made the journey across the southwest border since last year, though this migration has largely been overshadowed by a related surge of unaccompanied minors.”
No refuge for these children. No safety for these innocents.
Nor, of course, are Central American children the only ones at risk.
Syrian children die as their homes are bombed, they live in “dire situations — caught in the crossfire, displaced from their homes, or facing extreme poverty.” According to UNICEF, more than two million Syrian children have fled the war and violence of their country, living as refugees. And, sometimes, dying as refugees. One week before Christmas, reports Al Jazeera, at least 18 people, including children, drowned when their boat capsized near the Turkish coast, and
“Less than 24 hours earlier, on Friday morning, eight Iraqi refugees, including five children, drowned after a boat sank off near Bodrum, Anadolu reported.
“And on Wednesday, at least Syrian four refugees, including three babies, drowned as their boat sank off Bodrum.”
The Coventry Carol commemorates the deaths of the innocents in Bethlehem:
Herod, the king, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day
His men of might, in his own sight,
All young children to slay.
That woe is me, poor Child for Thee!
And ever mourn and sigh,
For thy parting neither say nor sing,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.
Who will write the song for today’s refugee children?
- Central American child refugee numbers rising again (News Day, 12/14/2015)
- Deporting to death: U.S. and refugees (News Day, 10/13/2015)
- DHS plans to deport families who surged across the border (Washington Post, 12/23/2015)
- The surreal reasons girls are disappearing in El Salvador (NPR, 10/7/2015)
- The Deported (New York Times Magazine, 12/9/2015)