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The idea of children - The great throwaway issue

Hurray! Americans have finally found one thing they all agree on...children. Not real children, mind you, but the idea of children, to be more precise. We are seeing this great new-found love manifest itself in the outpouring of letters to the Federal Government against the treatment of detained children at our southern border.

Everybody is outraged that we, the United States of America, would have the temerity to detain children while our officials attempt to ascertain their true identity and to be sure that the person they traveled with really is their mum or dad. How could we even think of it? How cruel to ask questions like that, not to mention the barbaric practice of housing them in safe, clean facilities, giving them three square meals a day, doctors' care, etc.

What were we thinking? Better to let them pass through the southern border turnstile and head off into the interior of the country and disappear forever. That's humane. Anything short of that makes us, as the Left says, "a bunch of Nazi thugs with no compassion." That actually sums up the whole situation. It's a binary, either/or choice without any middle ground. Detain the children and you're a child-hater or racist or bigoted against brown-skinned people. Let them go and you're a true-blue patriotic American.

Unaccompanied illegal immigrant children aren't peace doves you release at a hippie wedding. They're foreign-born little people who've already had their psyches, and maybe their poor little bodies, irreparably damaged by a treacherous forced march through two countries, led by unscrupulous “coyotes.” They may or may not be who their adult partners say they are. Questioning them is not a crime; it's a necessity. Making them feel safe is the first step. Getting them to relax and talk to us is the second. Critics of the policy talk as if we are interrogating or torturing them, caging them like wild animals and stripping them of their humanity, all in the name of a “zero tolerance” policy, created by the evil villain, Donald Trump and his cohorts.

Can we all take a deep breath, please, and that includes the reactionary news media and its never-Trump pundits? These despicable commentators have moved deep into the bowels of the Twilight Zone with their over-the-top rants about the U.S. being "a government of racists and White supremacists" that hates little children." I don't, for the life of me, know how networks that permit this venom can still get advertisers for their programs!

Back to the children. This “it's all about the children” is a throwaway issue enabling public office-holders and office-seekers to write letters of support that show their extreme compassion (and in many cases opposition to the President and his Administration). They are a “dog whistle” to their political base that THEY are the ones to save America (in November) from the clutches of the Simon Legree at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

America needs to look in its own backyard.

According to the National Center for Children in Poverty , 15 million of America's children live in poverty. That's 21 percent that live in families with incomes below the poverty level. "Research shows that, on average, families need an income of about twice that level to cover basic expenses. Using this standard, 43 percent of children live in low-income families." The American Society for the Positive Care of Children says that, "American children are suffering from a hidden epidemic of child abuse and neglect. National child abuse estimates are well known for being under-reported.

The latest 2015 Child Maltreatment Report from The Children’s Bureau was published in January 2017. The report shows an increase in child abuse referrals from 3.6 million to 4 million. The number of children involved subsequently increased to 7.2 million from 6.6 million. The report also indicates an increase in child deaths from abuse and neglect to 1,670 in 2015, up from 1,580 in 2014. Some reports estimate child abuse fatalities at 1,740 or even higher. The United States has one of the worst records among industrialized nations – losing on average almost five (5) children every day to child abuse and neglect."

Add to that the number of young people hooked on soft drugs like marijuana, and hard drugs like cocaine, methamphetamines, heroin and other deadly substances, not to mention opiods, and you have a generation of young people who've already “tuned out” and shut down any hopes of attaining the “American Dream” INSIDE America's borders! Our children's involvement in dangerous gangs like MS-13 is also putting them, their parents, friends and community at great risk.

It seems to me that if we're really concerned “about the children” we had better start concentrating on the welfare of all the millions outside the detention centers and not just the 12,000 or so inside. Urge your city, organization and church officials to quit grandstanding and playing politics with their token letters and roll up their sleeves and get to work saving America's highest at-risk population...our children.

Stephan Helgesen is a retired career U.S. diplomat who lived and worked in over 30 countries. He is now a political analyst, strategist and author of nine books and over 850 articles on politics, economics and social trends. He can be reached at

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