What do we owe the kids on our doorstep?

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Opinion - BY CYNDY ETLER Cyndy Etler is a teacher, teen life coach and au­thor.

Some of my kids who have made it across the Mexican bor­der are carved up. Chunks of their bod­ies are gone, knifed out of their flesh, sim­ply for re­fus­ing to join the drug car­tels.

They were told they would be given a sec­ond chance to join. They know of oth­ers who were killed when they didn’t. So they left their na­tive coun­tries and fled to the United States.

I got to know th­ese young peo­ple dur­ing my job as an English as a sec­ond lan­guage teacher and de­part­ment chair at Hough High School in Cor­nelius from 2013 to 2015. I re­main in touch with many of them. I am some­thing of a “state­side mother.”

Many Amer­i­cans be­lieve the im­mi­grants com­ing to the United States seek­ing asy­lum are just look­ing for bet­ter op­por­tu­ni­ties. Oth­ers think that even those flee­ing vi­o­lence are not our prob­lem. This ig­nores both the re­al­ity of th­ese im­mi­grants’ lives and the key role the United States has played in cre­at­ing the con­di­tions that cause them to flee.

In Mex­ico and Cen­tral Amer­ica, pre­cious few jobs pay any­thing re­sem­bling a liv­ing wage. In Gu­atemala, for ex­am­ple, many jobs pay less than $4 a day for work in dan­ger­ous, un­san­i­tary con­di­tions. Th­ese jobs in­clude pick­ing pro­duce for U.S. com­pa­nies like Chiq­uita.

The other op­tion for work is with the car­tels, which ex­ist to sell drugs to U.S. cit­i­zens. Our drug hunger sup­ports the groups slic­ing and dic­ing kids.

Un­der­ly­ing th­ese realities is the dark his­tory of U.S. in­volve­ment in Latin Amer­i­can pol­i­tics. Dur­ing the 1950s, fear­ing newly elected Ja­cobo Ar­benz, an ad­vo­cate for lib­eral democ­racy, would in­cite the spread of com­mu­nism, the CIA in­stalled a mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship in Gu­atemala.

That dic­ta­tor­ship went on to im­prison, tor­ture and kill over nearly four decades of civil war.

The no­to­ri­ously vi­o­lent Mexican car­tel, the Ze­tas, was cre­ated by for­mer elite Mexican sol­diers who, in the 1990s, were trained at Fort Bragg in coun­terin­sur­gency and coun­ternar­cotics tac­tics.

And so the peo­ple in th­ese coun­tries, faced with a choice be­tween join­ing the drug car­tels the United States helped cre­ate or be­ing killed, choose op­tion three: run­ning for their lives. This is the lived ex­pe­ri­ence of the young peo­ple I have taught and loved, teenagers who have lived through tor­ture to get to the United States. I know their sto­ries are true. I’ve seen the rough stitched flesh. I’ve held the pic­tures of sib­lings in coffins.

I of­fer two ob­ser­va­tions: First, con­trary to the fear­mon­ger­ing of many in the United States, the im­mi­grants who make it here are the ones who have risked ev­ery­thing in or­der to avoid drugs and vi­o­lence.

Sec­ond, the un­der­ly­ing causes of the vi­o­lence they are escaping is a trail of blood and cul­pa­bil­ity that can be traced right back to the United States. We owe them more than in­car­cer­a­tion and a tin­foil blan­ket.


The U.S. owes bet­ter to the chil­dren we are de­tain­ing.

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