By Kristine Howard
There is a crisis at our southern border, and it’s not “caravans” of people from Latin America. Instead, it’s the way our nation treats its neighbors seeking asylum and opportunity.
The crisis extends through the whole country, too, reaching our doorsteps in Chester County.
Many could be tempted to think that Chester County – one of the wealthiest counties in America – is shielded from the effects of U.S. immigration policies and the harm they are causing children and families, but I know from firsthand experience that is not the case.
In fact, I’ve seen the cases.
Before I was elected to the General Assembly, I worked for Chester County’s Department of Children, Youth and Families, where I investigated child welfare. I saw many upsetting circumstances, including issues pertaining to immigration.
As of 2017, 7.6 percent of Chester County’s residents are of Hispanic or Latino descent. Ten percent of our county is foreign-born. I met many families, but never asked about their immigration status.
One day, I was assigned the case of a teenage boy found by police living in an apartment with many grown men, all of them immigrants working here. I had many conversations with the police officer who had contacted us due to concern about this juvenile apparently under no one’s care. No one knew if he was a runaway or an unaccompanied minor with no legal status. His real name was uncertain, and he did not divulge where his parents were.
I was told ICE was going to “sweep” the apartments and that the boy would likely be detained. You must remember, now, at the same time, this report was initiated for the well-being of a child – and done so regardless where he was born. I was legally and duty bound to find and help him, but it never happened. He vanished from the property, and I was unable to locate him.
I encountered two other immigrant families with similar stories. Both had children who grew up, attended school and made a home here. The boys, as many young boys do, got into some trouble, minor offenses. Instead of paying simple fines, performing community service or being put on probation, they were deported. Their families remained here, but these boys were sent to countries to which they had no attachment.
This should not be acceptable to anyone. A child is a child and we should all be concerned about the welfare of all children in our country, regardless of their place of birth.
What is happening now undermines any claim to the moral authority that our American democracy has valued for more than 200 years. Demagogues say calling for the humane treatment of immigrant children is equivalent to supporting open borders. That is political hyperbole at its worst.
This is why I am introducing a resolution in the Pennsylvania House calling on the Trump administration to put an immediate end to its mistreatment of migrant children. People of good conscience, regardless of political affiliation, need to join together and tell President Trump to end his political war on immigrant families.
State Rep. Kristine Howard, a Democrat, represents the Chester County-based 167th state House District. She is a former Chester County child welfare investigator.