The situation at the border has evoked a range of emotion from most Americans. Understandably, many have exploded with outrage at the idea of children being separated from their parents. But this same situation is also very real every day in America, miles away from the border.
Some 100,000 youth are placed in the more than 1,200 juvenile correctional facilities across the U.S. This number doesn’t take into account the 100,000 or so that are being held in adult facilities, having been tried and sentenced as adults.
Each of these 100,000 kids in juvenile facilities will be released back into the community at some point soon. For many, home is not a safe place to return. Others have parents that are completely disengaged.
These are our own “border kids.” They stand at the border of oblivion.
Many will end up back in prison - either still as youth, or in a few years as adults. Still more will be on the streets, with nowhere to turn. Social services will cover some, but at a high price to taxpayers.
What is our collective response to these children? Do these lives matter?
Each of these are youth born with a purpose and destiny. Through difficult circumstances, personal trauma, poverty, and a number of other factors, many found themselves in desperate situations. Yes, they made bad choices, but often because they had not obtained critical thinking and decision-making skills, nor had anyone in their lives to show them the right way to go.
It is easy to politicize issues such as the immigrant children at our border and to use the story and its optics for partisan purposes. It is also disingenuous. Children should never be pawns for our own agenda.
It is more difficult, and unpopular, to look at the children behind bars who will be released back into our own communities and determine that we are going to do something.
Yet, this is the reality that faces us today. Far from the glare of the TV cameras, thousands of American children will walk out of detention facilities this year with nowhere to go.
Will anyone protest? Will a wave of indignation sweep across social media? Will the faces of CNN debate this travesty?
The solution is in our hands. How we respond will demonstrate whether or not we truly care about children in crisis.
Steve Riach is the founder of the One Heart Project, a nonprofit that provides youthful offenders with a second chance. He invites you to join One Heart in making a difference in the lives of these youth. www.oneheart.com