Children Hard Hit by Punitive Immigration Policies
By Carol Barton*
Editor’s Note: This article is one in a series on United Methodist Women representation at the Global Forum on Migration and Development in Athens, Greece, Nov. 1-4.
At the opening of the People’s Global Action on Migration, Development and Human Rights in Athens, Greece, migrant families in
Greece gathered to share their experiences. Hailing from many nations, parents and children all came to be part of this unique opportunity for local immigrant groups to share with migrant rights organizations from around the world. These groups are in Athens in conjunction with the governmental Global Forum on Migration and Development.
▲ Filipino children in Athens perform at the People's Global Action on Migration, Development and Human Rights. Photo by Carol Barton.
The children of migrant families in Greece who do not have formal documents or are “out of status” face a difficult future. In the United States, children born in the country have a birthright to US citizenship regardless of the status of their parents. But in Greece and several other European countries, children do not have that birthright. They are also out of status, and face the potential of being deported when they turn 18, to a nation they have never known.
This was a central demand, then, of the United African Women Organization in Greece and other migrant groups. According to Loretta Macauley of Sierra Leone and Greece, “We want our children to feel that this country embraces them and gives them the opportunity to progress and to achieve their dreams. We want them to have a homeland.”
These children were a prominent part of the opening program on Sunday. As proud parents gathered round with cameras, the children of the Munting Nayon Community School presented songs in English, Greek and Tagalog. Debbie and Joe Valencia, of KASAPI, a Filipino migrant organization in Athens that is hosting the People’s Global Action, started the school.
Debbie comes from a United Methodist family in the Philippines and her mother, now in California, is a United Methodist Women
member. The school was initially created to educate Filipino children in Athens, but in response to demand it now serves 60 children of 16 different nationalities. As we heard them sing about a world without conflict or hunger, and about being the embodiment of their parents’ dreams, it was both inspiring and painful to consider their precarious status in Greece.
▲ Bangladeshi mother and son are residents in Athens. Photo by Carol Barton.
There is good news on the horizon. A new Greek government has committed to giving migrant children legal status. This will be a huge victory, which needs to be echoed in other European Union countries.
However, this is only a first step. When parents are detained and deported in the US, children who are US citizens may be left behind with relatives, or even incarcerated with their parents. The larger concern is regularization of status for parents as well – so that families can fulfill those dreams without fear, persecution, discrimination and exploitation.
We are reminded that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child can be a tool to hold governments accountable for the rights of migrant children throughout the world. The United States government played an active role in the drafting of the Convention and signed it on 16 February 1995, but has not ratified it. The Obama administration has committed to reviewing this—so now is an important moment for United Methodist Women members to call on the administration and the Senate to ratify the Convention, as well as to lift up concerns for the rights of migrant children. Closer to home, we can advocate for US immigration policies that end mandatory detentions and deportations and focus on family unity.
Read more about UMW’s presence People’s Global Action on Migration, Development and Human Rights in Athens, Greece.