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Brynn Anderson

Migrant children walk outside at the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children. (Brynn Anderson)

Whirled Views

Major on minors

Over 2,000 immigrant children have been separated from parents at the border, but thousands more crossed alone

Spend a week reading about immigration law and the current crisis on the border, and you may feel like you understand less than when you started.

The twists, turns, exceptions, and who-did-what-when is enough to leave The Wall Street Journal leading its Friday front-page coverage with this statement:

Changing, competing and contradictory explanations of the administration’s immigration policy spread confusion from Washington, D.C., to the Mexican border, leaving front-line law-enforcement and social-service agencies unsure of what will happen to thousands of children.

Among the unanswered questions: How will families be reunited now? And where will they all stay together? Officials at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) told the Journal on Thursday night it was awaiting further guidance on those details.

The confusion underscores the massive logistical challenge the government faces in reuniting some 2,000 children with parents separated from them at the U.S. border over the last several weeks. It also underscores the legal challenges that could be ahead.

A 1997 consent degree (called the Flores settlement) requires the U.S. government to place unaccompanied immigrant children with a close relative or family friend, or to keep them in the least restrictive conditions possible.

In 2015, after the Obama administration began detaining some families together during an illegal immigration surge, a federal judge ruled the Flores settlement also applied to minors crossing the border with their parents—not just to those who come alone.

That means the executive order President Trump signed on Wednesday to keep families together in detention is nearly certain to face legal challenges unless Congress acts to make changes to the law.

Even as 2,000 children wait to be reunited with their parents in the coming weeks, the Pentagon confirmed it had received a request from DHS to provide up to 20,000 temporary beds for unaccompanied immigrant children at Defense Department installations.

Twenty thousand?

That’s 10 times the number of children who have been separated from their parents at the border in recent weeks, and it highlights a massive category that hasn’t gained as much attention in the current debate: The thousands of immigrant minors who have crossed the border without their parents.

DHS reports it is currently housing 11,000 “unaccompanied” minors in temporary shelters and foster homes. (Some children separated from parents at the border may be included in that figure, although it’s unclear how many.)

This trend of youth migration goes back many years, but became a huge story in 2014, when tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors crossed the U.S. border, mostly flowing from Central America.

Most were teenage boys, but some were children as young as 4. (Authorities reported some children arriving at the border with phone numbers of relatives in the United States pinned to their clothes.)

Whatever their situation, it called for a huge response from U.S. immigration courts.

The problem: Even then, the courts were massively backlogged. I reported in 2014 that the U.S. immigration courts faced a backlog of over 375,000 cases.

I checked the figures on Friday, and the current number of pending immigration cases is 714,067.

In 2014, the United States had about 249 immigration judges. Current number: around 350.

As Congress plans to hold a vote next week on immigration legislation, many already predict the package won’t pass. President Trump has said Republicans should just wait to act until after the midterm elections—and count on a GOP landslide.

But with three-quarters of a million pending cases in U.S. immigration courts—including plenty of asylum cases that need to be heard—waiting doesn’t seem like a viable option, even if it means starting with basic relief for immigration courts.

My story in 2014 was called “System overload.” Four years later, it’s coming closer to a “system breakdown.”

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Singapore Press via AP

U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meet in Singapore on June 12 (Singapore Press via AP)

Whirled Views

Remember those in prison

Hopes of North Korean diplomacy shouldn’t overshadow the plight of Christians and others suffering under the regime

After President Donald Trump’s historic visit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un in Singapore, Trump declared he had “solved” the problem of a nuclear threat from the recluse nation.

Let’s hope so, but let’s also wait and see whether North Korea follows through with its promises on denuclearization.

Trump seemed charmed by Kim, saying in one interview that North Koreans love the dictator. This comes less than five months after Trump declared in his State of the Union address, “No regime has oppressed its own citizens more totally or brutally than the cruel dictatorship in North Korea.”

A landmark 2014 report by the United Nations described a litany of North Korean atrocities: “beatings, starvation, exposure to cold, various torture techniques, rape, infanticide, and public executions.”

In 2016, the group Christian Solidarity Worldwide described testimony from other defectors: “Christians are reported to have suffered brutal violence. Forms of torture include beatings with fists or implements such as electric rods, wooden pokers, metal poles, water torture through forced submersion, and being used as test subjects for medical training and experimentation.”

After the Singapore summit, a reporter asked Trump if the pair had discussed human rights, and specifically asked about the “fate of the Christians” in a regime that doesn’t allow freedom of worship.

Trump said they had discussed the issue “very strongly,” and that “things will be happening.”

Again, let’s hope so, since some Christians are among the thousands of North Koreans exiled to a network of brutal prison camps for dissidents and other enemies of the regime.

During the course of the Singapore summit, I thought about Jung Gwang Il, a North Korean defector who has described being forced to stack dead bodies next to a latrine in the winter during his time in a North Korean prison. When the bodies thawed in the spring, guards forced the prisoners to bury them. The victims had died from extreme labor, illness, and starvation.

Jung now operates a group called “No Chain” that uses drones and other methods to get information into North Korea—often on USBs loaded with TV shows and movies that reveal life outside the regime. The group also produced the “Stealth Gospel”— taking 32 songs praising the North Korean regime and turning them into Christian praise songs.

Christian conversions aren’t unusual among North Korean defectors, and author Melanie Kirkpatrick has described what it’s like when Chinese Christians show kindness to a North Korean escapee: “It’s usually the first time in his life he’s encountered someone who has helped him out of the goodness of his heart. And it has a profound effect on these people.”

It should also have a profound effect on Christians around the world when we learn about believers willing to suffer and die for their faith. And it should bring to mind the Bible’s admonition not to forget them: “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them.”

 

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Left: Blind Boys of Alabama • Right: Justin Sullivan/AP

Clarence Fountain (Left: Blind Boys of Alabama • Right: Justin Sullivan/AP)

Whirled Views

The seeing blind

What a legendary gospel singer reminds the world after a week filled with sad news of death

Every week brings reminders that death comes for every man and every woman—and sometimes children—but it’s still a deep blow, no matter when or how it arrives.

Last week brought sad news of the sudden and tragic deaths of two well-known figures: fashion designer Kate Spade and television star and author Anthony Bourdain. Both had tremendously successful careers. Both committed suicide. 

Friday brought more sad news: Commentator and author Charles Krauthammer announced that his battle with cancer appears to be in its final stages. His doctor says he likely has weeks to live. Krauthammer has also enjoyed a robust career, despite enduring a diving injury at 22 that left him a quadriplegic. 

In a letter to colleagues, he said he was sad to leave this world, but he was thankful for the life he led: “This is the final verdict. My fight is over.”

I’ve written before about the Bible’s profound calling to live our lives with the end in mind. I still commend one of WORLD’s 2017 books of the year: Living Life Backward: How Ecclesiastes Teaches Us to Live in Light of the End. 

In God’s timing, death is coming for all of us, and we should ask ourselves now: How will I live in light of it? We should also ask: How will we help others facing the same question? 

Those questions bring us to a death less noticed during the same week: Clarence Fountain, a founding member of the legendary gospel music group Blind Boys of Alabama, died on June 3 at age 88.

Fountain was born blind in Tyler, Ala., in 1929 during the Great Depression, and he attended the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind during the height of segregation in the Jim Crow era. There he met a handful of other young men who had something in common: They could sing. 

The teens formed a group with other members, and landed their first hit in 1948 with the gospel/blues song about losing a mother: “I Can See Everybody’s Mother But Mine.”

The group became part of a golden era of gospel music, with a blues-infused style that led similar singers to migrate from the world of gospel tunes to the exploding landscape of rhythm and blues.

Fountain and his fellow singers decided they’d stick with gospel. 

It meant giving up a shot at a far more financially lucrative career and the prospect of international fame, but as Fountain explained years later: “Our purpose comes from up above.”

The group still had a tremendously respectable career, and won five Grammys, even as they committed to “stay on the gospel side,” as Fountain described it. 

Fountain’s performances were exuberant even as he sang songs that described the profound realities of Ecclesiastes: “Tried everything under the sun…”

What he learned: “Do what the Lord say do.”

It’s amazing what Fountain and his fellow singers did. 

“These men were … raised as blind, African American males in the Deep South during the Jim Crow years, and they were sent to a school where the expectation for them was to one day make brooms for a living,” the group’s manager once said. “But they’ve transcended all that.”

It was hard work, but Fountain kept the principles simple. “We’re just cut out to do what we’re doing,” he told The Los Angeles Times in 1996. But Fountain also kept his eyes on the grace he often sang about in songs like, “Look Where He Brought Me From.” 

Last year, The Atlantic asked Fountain if he was sad that his poor health had brought his touring days to an end. (The group still tours with one original member and a handful of other singers.) 

“Everybody has a point in life when your time is out,” he replied. “But I thank Him for letting me live as long as I have.”

That gratitude seemed rooted in what he told a crowd several years before when he launched into a song during a live concert. “I didn’t come here looking for Jesus,” he said, wearing his trademark sunglasses. “I brought Him along with me.”

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