“A picture is worth a thousand words” is an old expression often used in journalism to boost a story by using supplementary photographs.  

So it has been during the last few days, where disturbing pictures of anguished children on the U.S.-Mexico border continue to distress people of all backgrounds.

To use an internet phrase, several of the alarming images being projected into our living rooms have gone “viral.” In other words, the horrible dilemma is unfolding on the world stage. Incredibly, the drama is taking place in a country that has professed immigration inclusiveness for generations.  

The detention sites housing the unaccompanied children are, to put it plainly, heart-wrenching. So much so, that several experienced news personnel have been brought to tears while covering this human tragedy. That’s expected, since many have children of their own.  

To be sure, the immigration subject is contentious. Even the large Spanish-speaking group in the U.S. is hopelessly divided and conquered; due mostly to political affiliation reasons.

To be sure, there are two diametrically opposed sides. On the one hand are folks who, driven by a sense of morality and spiritual guidance, believe that our government is obligated to welcome these new immigrants fleeing violence in their home countries, such as El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.  

On the other side, self-described white “nativists” see the asylum seekers as trespassing invaders. Much of the intolerance is bolstered by constant language labeling immigrants as murderers, rapists, and terrorists.  

Sadly, we live in an era where mainstream society has a tendency to generalize and easily led to believe that the words “immigrants” and “terrorists” are the same. Notwithstanding the constant barrage of volatile rhetoric from some politicians, the two terms are not alike.

In fact, it may surprise most people in the U.S., but the families stranded on the U.S. Mexico border are all Native Americans, and not terrorists from overseas. That is, they are indigenous Americans because they live in America, whose boundary stretches from Northern Canada to South America’s Tierra del Fuego.

They are also overwhelmingly devout Christians, whose deep faith has brought them here. All they seek is shelter and employment to feed their families.  

The fact is that before they were Salvadoran, Guatemalan, and Honduran they were Native American and called themselves Maya, Lenca, and Olmec. By the way, many don’t speak Spanish because they continue to speak only their Native American language. Truly, they are proud people who originate from sophisticated pre-Columbian societies that rival great civilizations around the world.

Sadly, European-descent people who came here as immigrants turned America upside down and set up the artificial political borders we see today. The question is, how did the situation deteriorate to this level of despair?    

What about U.S. involvement? Well, let’s just say that U.S. business interests helped set up the foundation of the violence-prone Central America region by habitually meddling in regime change. Sufficient to say that the entrenched corruption system found there today that enables the drug traffic and human trafficking trade can be traced to exploitative early 1900s U.S. business corporations. In truth, U.S. involvement has continued its clandestine operations well into the 21st century.  

In particular, the U.S. has had an active hand in various secret efforts to topple elected foreign officials, such as the scandalous Iran-Contra Affair that took place under the Reagan administration.  

In case some readers have forgotten about this incident, the U.S. was unhappy with Nicaragua’s government. Prohibited by laws that banned U.S. involvement, a plot was devised to collect funds to support Nicaraguan rebels by selling weapons to Iran. It’s sufficient to say that the scheme was horribly doomed, making the Iran-Contra Affair one of the most embarrassing diplomatic disasters in our nation’s history. Sadly, it is only one of many such incidents that set the stage for the corruption we see today in the region.         

The question is, are Central American people fleeing violence be viewed as trespassers? The answer is no, simply because they are the indigenous people of America. Consider the immigration subject this way, if you are white, your family roots are in Europe, making you an immigrant in America.  

According to most documented sources, over 12 million European immigrants were processed through Ellis Island during the time it was in operation. Additionally, there have been other times when the welcome mat was placed on our borders.

One case in particular was in 1957, when over 30,000 Hungarians fleeing violence in Hungary were accepted and resettled in the U.S. Another example is the Cuba model that allowed hundreds of thousands of Cubans to immigrate to the U.S. because they were fleeing violence at the hands of the island’s communist government.  

As compared to today’s dilemma with unaccompanied children on the U.S. Mexico border, over 14,000 unaccompanied young Cuban children were welcomed from 1960-62. In fact, the resettlement was carried out under a benevolent project intimately called Pedro Pan (Peter Pan).

Interestingly enough, even today, Cuban immigrants continue to receive special treatment by Homeland security agents and support from conservative politicians. Under current U.S. immigration laws, a Cuban citizen who shows up at the port at Laredo, for example, is allowed in and can travel freely in the U.S. without being inconvenienced with detention. However, a mother with children from El Salvador that shows up at the same time asking for asylum is abruptly incarcerated and, more than likely, be processed for deportation.

In summary, yes, the immigration system is broken. Yet, it can be fixed by both parties. We must no longer use innocent children in the fight to reform our immigration system.

Native Americans are not trespassers. As descendants of the first inhabitants in America, sanctuary seekers who travel the long dangerous road to the border are simply the latest chapter in our long history of welcoming immigrants from around the world.  

Lastly, for those who claim that their white ancestors came to America “legally”, remember this.  No hostile takeover of a people’s land is ever “legal.” So, in that sense, the “wretched masses of white Europeans yearning to breathe free,” simply trespassed and repossessed the First American’s land without authority. That, in itself, should make white citizens more understanding and empathetic toward Native American arrivals from Central America. 

“Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.”  (Franklin D. Roosevelt).

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above guest column shows Guatemalan women attending mass at a church in Los Angeles. (Photo: Eric Chan)