The recent influx of children from Central America entering the US has created a media firestorm in recent weeks; as a result, the politics of immigration have taken front and center, sadly diminishing focus away from the real issue here—there are thousands of children at-risk. Not to deny the complexity of this situation, and its relation to immigration, but if we take a moment to look beyond the political rhetoric and finger-pointing, might we be able to construct more dignified solutions?
For example, I’m trying to imagine what it must be like for the parents of these children. What would cause a parent to send their child away – to a completely new country no less, at the risk of never seeing them again? The only fathomable answer I can come up with is that conditions in their home country must be that bad and that hopeless; the risk and pain of sending their child alone is outweighed by the hope, the possibility, that the child find a substantially better life. Per usual, we hear of drugs and gang violence in the home countries, almost always coupled with economic deprivation. All over the world there are children “migrating” (or, more accurately, “fleeing”) to escape poverty or violence, or both. Simultaneously, there are also parents leaving their children behind in order to find jobs in urban areas. This puts both the child and the parent at greater risk of trafficking, homelessness, and other hardships we in the “developed” world can barely fathom. These are not “choices” made—who would “choose” either of these options? It is precisely because they feel they have no other choice. The poverty and violence in these situations are all-consuming and ultimately take out those innocent and most vulnerable to its treachery… the children.
Let’s widen our scope and deepen our understanding of why these kids are “fleeing”. Why do people leave their homes, and how can we help more effectively? Poverty is prevalent all over the world. No job and no income translate to no livelihood, or turning to desperate means for survival. Parents or children escape in search of something better – even if they don’t know what that looks like yet, in their minds it can only be better than what they face day-to-day at home. As a result, families are being separated, sometimes permanently. It is naïve to presume that migrants/refugees will stop crossing borders by increasing the threat of deportation or the height of walls meant to keep them out. So long as people are forced to act in desperation for their survival, this will always win out over any attempt to dissuade them.
What if there were a way to fight poverty at the front end? Can we strengthen local economies through existing industries and products we already use? Can we provide jobs, and empower a labor force thirsty for work, while adding a much-needed affirmation of their self-worth and dignity? It doesn’t need to be rocket science. It can be as simple as… a T-shirt.
That’s what our Mobile Factory Initiative is all about. People have asked, “Why do you want to provide jobs overseas? We need jobs in America.” We do not deny that Americans need jobs as well, and we are actively building towards that future. But to solidify a thriving economy here at home, and be able to provide Americans with adequate jobs, we cannot ignore how our current consumption affects those abroad. Faces Apparel is a for-profit apparel company addressing the migrant issue the best way we know how: manufacturing jobs making garments in struggling areas, an alternative to the destruction of families discussed above. When jobs are provided in such communities, it encourages people to stay close to home in the long-run. And the benefits reach all the way to the top, for less is spent by receiving countries on migrant detention facilities, refugee relief, etc. Regardless of political stance, the migrant issue does affect everyone, down to the individual tax-payer.
I don’t pretend to understand how policy from decades ago has (or has not) led to the complexities of today’s global problems. I’m not an immigration expert. What I do know, what I’m sure of, is that I have a choice in what I can best do, as a non-politico-average American, to help. That is through an industry I already participate in as a consumer and now a business owner. Faces Apparel is trying to combat poverty on the front-end through the apparel industry. There are others across the spectrum offering their own solutions. For instance, Solidarity works with undocumented children in a federal detention center in California while also strengthening the local community through its social enterprises like SolidT screen printing, and Made in a Free World combats slavery on multiple levels across the globe. So while Faces Apparel is not there to solve all these problems after crises happens, we are in our own way trying to prevent some of this from ever happening through our Mobile Factories, in hopes to bring economic development and community transformation in the long-run so these little kiddos won’t have to run away any longer.
The migration of people in search of work, safety and survival truly affects all of us. I am often reminded that I could have been born in a different country, under a different circumstance: had I been dealt a different set of cards, it could have been my friends and me running to a neighboring country seeking asylum.
Written by Angela North, Co-founder of Faces Apparel. Send her any questions or comments here.
Photo credit: aljazeera.com