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Summer Camp from Hell: Children Behind Fences

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While U.S children, most of them white, prepare to attend joyful and fun camps this summer, another group of children, mostly brown, prepare to endure a summer camp from hell.

Laughing children will hike trails, swim in ponds, sharpen their sporting skills, sing camp songs, cook hot dogs over an open fire, roast marshmallows and learn about the love and salvation of Jesus.

Meanwhile, children migrating from Central America will be locked behind military barriers, forced to sleep in cages, stripped of educational opportunities, discouraged from participating in recreational activities and denied legal assistance.

These children are learning something too, but it has nothing to do with Jesus.

In an attempt to house a record number of unaccompanied children from Central America arriving at the border, the U.S. Office of Refugee and Resettlement announced recently that they will be using a military base in Oklahoma.

The base was previously used by the Obama administration when another wave of unaccompanied children arrived at the border.

Fort Sill has a tenuous history as it was used to imprison Geronimo and 400 Apache women and children in the 19th century, then later as an internment camp during World War II for Japanese Americans and Japanese immigrants.

Critics have noted that the use of the camp is a repeat of history. In an interview by The Washington Post, 75-year-old Satsuki Ina proclaimed, “We are here today to protest the repetition of history.”

Many agree with her, seeing this move as a replication of history with military bases used as “camps” to imprison specific people-groups that the government directly opposes.

Earlier this month, the U.S Department of Health and Human Services notified shelters around the country that they would no longer reimburse them for teachers’ pay, legal services and recreational activities for children.

The situation at the border has grown so distraught that John Sanders, acting commissioner of U.S. Border Control, resigned on Tuesday and will step down on July 5.

Later that day, the House of Representatives passed a $4.5 billion emergency border aid bill, an alternative to a Senate aid bill approved by the Appropriations Committee on June 19.

There is a rapidly growing crisis at the border, and our nation’s collective response has been halfhearted at best, disingenuous at worst.

For a nation that has prided itself on being the beacon of hope for all people, we are letting that light fade to dark.

In a recent interview with EthicsDaily at the American Baptist Churches, U.S.A. biennial, 87-year-old Yosh Nakagawa commented on what he sees as a repeat of history.

Imprisoned along with his family in 1942 by a presidential order, Nakagawa believes the imprisonment of immigrant children feels very familiar.

He told EthicsDaily, “The same story is happening today by building a wall of fear. … However, this story is much more sophisticated.”

In a culture that valued children but also permitted their exploitation and devalued their status, Jesus was very clear that they should be treated with dignity, respect and value.

Why? Jesus argued heaven itself belongs to them. “Let the little children come to me, and not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs” (Matthew 19:14).

How we treat children – any child – reveals the moral conscience of our culture. When we separate children from their parents, place them in cages, imprison them at military bases, withhold services that bring human dignity and devalue their worth based upon citizenship, we have lost our souls.

It’s time for people of faith and good will to speak up and speak out. It’s time for good people to condemn this treatment of children and demand that we find a better way.

Thankfully, churches and Christians along the U.S.-Mexico border are currently working with immigrants, providing humanitarian needs and spiritual encouragement.

Sanctuary movements are rising across the country and welcoming people into their sacred spaces.

People are no longer being silent when it comes to welcoming the stranger and assisting the disadvantaged (Matthew 25). We must use our voices and hands to implement change and provide a new path forward.

Nakagawa reminds us that the greatest tragedy these children face today is what he calls the “silence of America.”

When he was in the internment camps in the 1940s, he recalled Baptist missionaries reaching out to help him and his family. Their kindness – even in the face of criticism from fellow Baptists – made him a Baptist for life.

We need more courageous people of faith and good will protesting evil practices and promoting life-altering strategies. We can do much better than we are currently doing.

The government remains “by the people and for the people.” Therefore, we need more people to get involved, speak out and offer humanitarian services.

The summer camp from hell can be a quick memory, but people of decency and justice must demand it. Until then, let us pray:

God of the Little Children,

Calm the fears of your little ones.
Let them feel the loving embrace of a stranger.
Let them eat a warm meal prepared with grace.
Let them dream of bright futures, far from cages and bases.
Let them learn new ideas, shaping the world’s future.
Let them play outside, generating creativity for endless possibilities.
Let them experience kindness and feel love, for they are innocence embodied.
Let them know that no matter where they come from, their futures have hope.

God of the Rest of Us,

Change the hearts of your people.
Let us see each other as human beings created in your image.
Let us lock away our fears and open up our minds.
Let us tear down walls that divide in order to build tables for more spaces.
Let us value potential friendships over creating new enemies.
Let us find our better angels instead of giving into the demons.
Let us work diligently for a better way forward.
Let us once again spark the light of liberty for all to bask in her glow.

Amen.

Mitch Randall

Mitch Randall is executive director of EthicsDaily.com.