The Los Angeles Times is reporting that as many as ten of the children the United States deported back to Honduras have been killed by the very people they were escaping from. They were sent back because American activists pressured them to do so, and given my horror and grief at the news, I wanted to find a way to persuade opponents to change their minds and welcome refugee children. I think the answer can be found in the Evangelical Christian community.
It has become very popular amongst some Evangelicals to adopt children from Eastern European countries. Special needs children appear to be the preference, in part because the orphanages are terrible and any child who needs extra care faces a horrendous and lonely life. But the children can only be adopted if the prospective parents pay huge amounts of money to foreign agencies, sometimes more than $30,000. Often, the adoptive parents are folks who have committed to living debt free, so they raise money at their churches and from friends, have bake sales, and work tirelessly to gather their pennies. Even so, despite their promise to avoid debt, many will take mortgages to get the fee. When the children do arrive in America, they become a kind of status symbol in the community, a way of publicizing the parents’ commitment to love and care for those in need.
This practice is controversial; there are lots of people who consider it buying children. But I want to avoid that issue. I also want to be clear that we have friends who have adopted one of these children and there is no question that they love their new daughter. The child is having a glorious life that she would never have had otherwise. Every community has its status symbols, and rescuing a child is certainly a better one than celebrity-endorsed sneakers, or a diamond bracelet. Think about the end of Schindler’s List, during which Oscar Schindler finally realizes that money is nothing compared to saving the life of a human being. Any person who rescues a child deserves to be celebrated.
What all of this behavior highlights is that Americans simply don’t value things we don’t pay for. We buy water from bottles even though it comes out of the faucet in the factory, we spend more on name-brand products even though they are identical to cheaper versions, and we don’t give a damn about National Parks, even though we pay exponentially more for a house with a view. Furthermore, Evangelicals aren’t the only ones who pay to adopt foreign children, even though there is an endless and heartbreaking list of kids who need homes right here in this country. Many die-hard liberals get children from Asia and Africa, also spending exorbitant amounts in the process. Some may see foreign adoption as good, some as bad, but the fact of the matter is that it represents who are as a people. We are capitalists. Cost makes us want things.
So, my proposal is as follows: when refugee children cross the Southern border, instead of meeting them with picket signs and shouting until they are sent home, let’s market them as live-in status symbols. Let’s encourage people to bid for the privilege of giving them a good home. Let’s sell them like we sell water and name brands, and give the foster parents the opportunity to boast about them on Facebook and at cocktail parties. Every kid will have a home and the host families will have a great deed to brag about. It’s a win-win situation.
Obviously, there will be safety concerns. We will have to do background checks to make sure that kids don’t end up with pornographers or others who will exploit them. We’ll have to be clear that these kids are not owned and that they are not slaves. The children also must be encouraged to maintain their relationships with their original families and become emancipated at eighteen, like other children in America.
But these are details to be worked out. Right now we have a humanitarian crisis and I think, with the proper marketing, these refugees can be bigger than the Ice Bucket Challenge. (The comic strip Doonesbury told a similar story about refugee babies being invited into trendy socialites’ homes in the 1970’s, but I can’t find the strips online.)
We have to start thinking more clearly about what charity means in modern America. If it were just about good deeds, we’d have no idea who our neighbors give to. Instead, our charitable acts are performed and applauded. Yes, refugee children are more expensive than pink ribbons or yellow bracelets, but the impact is larger too. Their price will no doubt be worth it.