US-Mexico border crisis: An opportunity for 'parenting without borders'?

As children from Central American countries enter the US, parents – no matter their political beliefs on the US-Mexico border issue – can help kids by pointing to ways they can care for those caught in the middle. 

Lucy Nicholson/Reuters
William Bello, 16, listens to speakers at a vigil in support of refugee children and their families in Murrieta, California July 9.

Tens of thousands of young “border children” are fleeing political unrest, drugs, and violence in Central American countries to come to the United States. While those crossing the borders into Texas and Arizona may have been born to other parents, arguably they need parental care as the US sorts out the next steps.

Thinking of other people’s children in need – as we would our own kids – could be categorized a “parenting without borders.”

It’s part of a hospitality concept I read about back in 2012 when my friend Lillian Miao, Publisher of Paracelet-Press in Boston, Mass., gave me the book “Hospitality”. It was full of lessons that were so simple and charming they have found their way into my parenting. Today, I realized they apply directly to the immigration issues our nation is grappling to solve.

Some examples: Welcome the stranger (the new kid); Give what you can (even if it’s only a place to sit and rest); Be real (genuine) with the people you are offering your hospitality; Feed people from your table; have an open heart.

I found myself falling back on the hospitality concepts today as I tried to help my own son Quin, 10, understand why a parent would ever encourage or allow a child his age to travel unaccompanied, through numerous dangers to a foreign land, and what we can possibly do to help these children.

Because I don’t feel comfortable telling him about things like the violence and abuse happening to kids at the hand of “coyotes” (those paid – often by parents – to smuggle children and adults across the border) among other things, I opted instead to talk to him about how Americans can be hospitable to these kids.

I asked Quin what he thinks people can give these kids that their own parents would give them if they were with them and his answers echoed some of the same hospitality points I outlined above.

“Love, appreciation, care, and a roof over their heads,” Quin replied.

For instance, if we lived in Texas, we could offer to open our home to a child as some there have already done, according to a recent NBC news report.

It seems in this instance we would need a lot more homes. According to the NBC report, more than 52,000 unaccompanied refugee children, most from Central America, have been apprehended entering the US illegally since October, and the number of unaccompanied children trying to enter the country has increased by more than 90 percent in 2013.

Some “border children” may have family in the United States and people are working to reunite these kids with any branch of their family that can be found.

However, the White House said Monday that most unaccompanied children arriving at the US-Mexico border won’t qualify for humanitarian aid and will likely end up sent back to their countries of origins and the struggles they tried to leave, according to the Associated Press.

Todd Miller, a journalist who wrote the book “Border Patrol Nation” (City Lights Books, March 2014), offered a sense of the hospitality of US citizens in and around Tucson, Ariz. where he lives.

“In my travels following the freight trains they call ‘The Beast’ these kids are taking through Mexico to try and get here (the US) I have seen a tremendous amount of the hospitality aspect of just  people, a whole network of shelters for the kids to take a night’s safe shelter,” Miller explained in a phone interview.

“In Mexico, I have seen people actually come out and greet the train with food for these kids along the way.”

According to Miller, “Here in Arizona we have Casa Mariposa and the Restoration Project greeting the Greyhound buses with clothing for the women and children who are just being dropped off here.” 

Catholic Charities in Fort Worth, Texas is near one epicenter of the crisis, and this group is jumping in to make sure the children are cared for as well.

According to their local Marketing and Digital Media Coordinator Kathryn Arnold, the group is “slammed” by media asking questions, but when asked what items people could send to help, Ms. Arnold provided a preview of what will be announced in a press conference next week – “Activity Boxes.”

While we plan to contact Casa Mariposa's Restoration Project to see if we can help them, the Catholic Charities boxes offer us a doable mission.

Knowing a tangible way to help connected my son to this issue. “We can take this list to church and Pastor Sara can make an announcement and then everybody can help us help,” Quin said after I showed him the list. “Everybody has this stuff. Everybody can give something on this list.” 

The Catholic Charities Activity Boxes include:

  • 1 plastic shoebox size container
  • Chapstick
  • Puzzles
  • Washcloths
  • Composition Book
  • Stress Ball
  • Playing Cards/Card Games/Magic Cards
  • Coloring books/ Activity books
  • Crayons/ Map Pencils
  • Mechanical Pencils
  • Hot Wheel Cars
  • Barbie Doll(s)
  • Small Bibles (English or Spanish)
  • 1 nail polish
  • 1 small Lego set
  • Hygiene/Welcome Box:
  • 1 Plastic shoebox sized container
  • 1 Lubriderm/Gold Bond/Eucerin lotion for extremely dry skin
  • 1 Shampoo
  • 1 Conditioner
  • 1 Body Wash/Bar Soap
  • 1 Toothpaste
  • 1 Toothbrush
  • 1 Brush/Comb
  • 1 Pack of Hair Ties
  • 1 Deodorant
  • 1 Small Toy
  • English/Spanish flash cards
  • Addition, Subtraction, Multiplication Flash Cards

While people in Washington D.C. do the heavy lifting of changing laws, allocating funds and making the big decisions, parents and kids like us can make a difference right now.

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