Billings: Columbia right to welcome child refugees
08/08/2014 12:00 AM
08/07/2014 5:32 PM
On Tuesday, the Columbia City Council exemplified South Carolina’s compassion and can-do spirit when it approved a resolution to create a welcoming environment for all children to our city.
Recent protests and attacks on frightened children crossing the U.S. border threaten our values and our American spirit of compassion. We must not forget that these are children — children who are seeking not just shelter but safety and the security of knowing that they can sleep through the night or walk down the street without the risk of being kidnapped and forced into the drug trade under death threats. We may find it difficult to accept that children are targets in their home countries, precisely because they are children — young, vulnerable, many of them poor, and often without the conditions to exercise their rights. They are easy targets because their own governments do not protect them.
Being in the United States, they are subjected to angry shouting and name calling, which cuts deeply into the heart of a child. No child should ever come to this country seeking refuge from unspeakable horrors and leave the worse for it. We cannot, as a compassionate people, bring more trauma onto any child who is asking us for help and protection. Attacking them solves nothing and only undermines our values as Americans, South Carolinians and Columbians.
The UN high commissioner for refugees estimates that almost 60 percent of the unaccompanied children have viable claims to refugee protection under international law. Whether they can stay or not, they should be treated with care, and they should be afforded due process under our laws. We can all identify with the pain of losing children to senseless violence. Why do we hesitate to help these children? We have a moral obligation to offer safety to the children fleeing such horrendous violence. We are compelled to make a positive difference in their lives.
As we wait for Congress to act on fixing our immigration system, the Columbia City Council is making Southern hospitality count, welcoming unaccompanied and refugee children to our city while they wait for their cases to be heard in court.
On Tuesday, I went to bed feeling proud to live in a city that voted on the side of protecting children. Let’s work to make Columbia a welcoming place for all children.