September 7, 2015 by Debra Gittler


you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land

Read the entire poem here.

The lines of this poem haunt me. I think of the little boy washed ashore. Of thousands of faces at a train station. Of young people who walk through the desert.

This time last year, 70,000 child refugees at the US border from the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras had flooded the news. This week, we are bombarded by images of the “European Refugee Problem.”

I’m giddy to read articles that associate the current refugee crises with “Western governments” political failure. I’m tickled to see thousands of individuals opening their homes. I’m eager to see so many fists in the air screaming that We Cannot Allow This.

I’m assured that the migration of millions of Syrians is recognized as a refugee crisis, a moral crisis, an international crisis. I delve deeply into articles that clarify migration from refuge.

Last week, the LA Times reported that:

By the end of this year, Mexico is expected to have deported 70% more Central American migrants than it did in 2014, according to the report by the Migration Policy Institute, a think tank based in Washington….

Mexico has apprehended 173,000 Central American migrants in 2015, according to Mexico’s National Migration Institute, the report says, compared with 110,000 in the United States, according to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.

The report also says Mexico deported about six times as many unaccompanied children as the United States last year, and that number is expected to double to 12 times more in 2015.

Right now and since the beginning of 2015, according to the Dirección General de Migración here in El Salvador (Office of Migration), the country receives, 5-9 busses full of deported individuals each day. Monday through Friday the adults arrive. Children come on Tuesdays and Fridays; 95 children each day. These children will spend six to eight weeks in temporary housing while seeking out family.

This is just hearsay—but 95 was the number of deported children for all of 2013.

I’m often asked why we should care about what’s going on in El Salvador. I’m asked: why worry about “over there” when there are so many problems “at home” in the USA? Why worry about “over there” when poverty in Africa is so much worse? Why worry about “over there” while ISIS ravages the Middle East?

I can’t help but wonder if we don’t worry about “over here” because the numbers are small. Sure—percentage wise, El Salvador suffers more than any other country in the world right now. Per capita, migration and murder are higher than any where on the planet. But compared to the millions escaping Syria, there are only tens of thousands here.

Similarly, if gang activity were recognized as war crimes, we wouldn’t label the children refugees as a migration crisis, but a moral one. Funny: the US declared war on terror, defying everything that history defined as war, but the notion that the most violent country in the world suffers from conflict between gangs and not governments brings into doubt that the people in El Salvador suffer war crimes.

If we had reacted differently one year ago, though… if we had limited migration to the USA from Central America by actually attacking the cause—violence, gangs, murder, rape… If we had done that, would we today not have to be stopping refugees before they reached the US border?

If we had acted morally and not politically, would this have somehow limited the effects upon Syria and the Middle East? If we were driven to solve the problem, would our response to the Syrian crises have started before it reached our Western doors? Does the problem have to reach our border before we recognize that we are all connected? Do we have to see a body washed ashore before we recognize that Injustice Anywhere is a Threat to Justice Everywhere?

Recently, I came across an interview of one of my own personal heroes. I was privileged to spend time with Ben Keesey, former CEO of Invisible Children, during my trip last week to Israel. I came across this interview with him some time ago, and find his words help answer the question of Why should we care…?

Yesterday, I watched a march for peace snake through the streets below my balcony in San Salvador. “Queremos paz,” echoed the voices. The world is small enough now that we can fairly say peace anywhere means peace everywhere. And a lack of peace anywhere means a lack of peace everywhere.

The question isn’t: why should we care about ‘over there’. The question is, how can we not?

Debra Gittler
Founder and Executive Director

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