I’m so proud of President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, Cabinet Secretaries Alejandro Mayorkas and Xavier Becerra, San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, our city’s Mayor Todd Gloria, the folks at Jewish Family Service, and San Diego Jewish World’s own contributor Mimi Pollack.
All of the people I’ve mentioned recognize that migrant children, no matter where they came from or how they got here, are vulnerable human beings who need our compassion and sustenance. Children should not be made into political footballs.
At his news conference late last week, President Biden said he absolutely would not turn his back on the unaccompanied children who cross the U.S. -Mexico border in search of a better life, free from fear and hunger. Except for his immediate predecessor, Donald Trump, no other president would have either, Biden said. To send children back across the border alone to fend for themselves is not what America stands for. We are a country that tries to honor to the biblical admonitions to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and shelter the poor.
Especially when they are children.
Kamala Harris has been given her first major assignment as U.S. Vice President: To address the root causes of the huge migration to our southern border from the Central American countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. It is a big job, fraught with political difficulty, but she didn’t shy from it. She’ll be holding discussions with the leaders of those countries to try to determine what the United States can do to counteract gang and drug violence, rampant poverty, political corruption and the effects of hurricanes and other natural disasters in those three countries, which are collectively known as the Central American Triangle countries.
Alejandro Mayorkas, the Secretary of Homeland Security, who himself arrived in this country as a child when his parents decided to leave Fidel Castro’s Cuba and start a new life here, must deal with the seasonal Central American surge of migration to the United States complicated by the pent up demand of refugees who were forced by the Trump administration to await their asylum hearings – seemingly endlessly — in Mexico. Mayorkas’ agency includes the Border Patrol, which formerly was under orders to deny migrants refuge in this country, and now which, under his guidance, is required to process minors as quickly and humanely as possible so they can be cared for by the Health and Human Services Agency.
That brings us to Xavier Becerra, California’s former attorney general, who recently was confirmed as U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services. Among the many tasks facing his agency are control of the coronavirus pandemic, and sheltering, clothing, and educating the young migrants who braved the trek to the U.S. border and now look to the United States for help as their asylum cases are litigated. Many of these children have relatives in the United States to whose custody they eventually will be released, once it can be established that they are really caring family members and not human traffickers.
Becerra recently reached out to San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, a former state assemblyman, and asked if there was any way the County of San Diego could provide temporary shelter for some of these children, the expenses for which would be reimbursed the federal government.
Fletcher suggested that the San Diego Convention Center might be able to accommodate some of the children, given the fact that the homeless people who had been temporary lodged there were now being moved to other shelters. The county supervisor promptly conferred with San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, who immediately came on board. Of course, said Gloria, who is the son of a janitor and a maid, San Diego wants to help these poor children. And yes, he added, the otherwise vacant Convention Center could be put to immediate use between now and July. Conventions on the books are scheduled to be held at the center in August.
And so, it was quickly arranged that up to 1,400 teenage girls at a time will taste freedom, compassion, and a San Diego welcome at the convention center. Under the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), an arm of the Department of Health and Human Services, they will receive the same kind of warm care that Jewish Family Service has been extending to migrant families since 2018, and which it will continue to offer to those families who are allowed into the country by the Border Patrol.
What does this mean? While they are at the Convention Center, the unaccompanied teenage girls will have a safe place to sleep, shower, change clothes, play, learn English, talk by telephone to their families, be exposed to American ways, and be taken care of – as any child should.
And what about Mimi Pollack? In 2019, when migrant families with no idea how to proceed were being dropped off by Border Patrol at the Greyhound Bus Station, Mimi and her friend Paula Sasso started the Bus Station Project. On their own volition, they met the refugees at the bus station, helped them purchase tickets to their destinations, provided them with maps and instructions how to get where they are going, and gifted them with food for the trip and stuffed animals to amuse the children. They continued the project until Jewish Family Service mounted the much larger effort which continues today with refugee families living in four hotels and receiving food, clothing, and transportation assistance from volunteers and staff members at a JFS staging area.
Now Pollack, a retired ESL instructor who speaks both Spanish and French, is collecting donations of stuffed animals for unaccompanied migrant children. She doesn’t want cash donations, only stuffed animals, and if you email her at firstname.lastname@example.org, she will arrange to pick up those toy animals and present them to both unaccompanied and accompanied child migrants, who during this confusing, even scary time of their lives, just might need something to cuddle.
Republished from San Diego Jewish World