It's incredible that any of these young boys have made it out alive.
The odds against these kids seemed truly insurmountable. But one thing was clear: They couldn't stay where they were. It was just too dangerous to remain in place, trapped, unable to breathe the free air. Every day that they stayed put, the odds of untimely death — the unthinkable snuffing out of a life that had barely begun — grew greater and greater.
The children were cut, battered and bruised. And they were hungry, sometimes going days without a thing to eat. Their journey to safety meant crossing through deep water, even though many of them could not swim. The odyssey out was agonizingly slow, and it passed through dangerous places. And yet somehow, miraculously, they began coming out on the other side.
And yet despite their escape from such an uncertain fate, the thousands of young boys — and girls — who've made their way out of their virtual caves of gang violence, rape and murder in their home countries of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador didn't receive a hero's welcome when they finally reached America's southern border. Instead, these kids so desperate to have a safe and healthy childhood and grow into productive adults are more often treated as criminals — sleeping in wire cages inside abandoned Walmarts or in dusty desert tents in 104-degree border towns.
Oh … you thought those opening paragraphs were about those 12 boys in Thailand, ranging in age from 11 to 16, who were trapped with their coach over two weeks ago when the cave that they were exploring became flooded, and whose amazing, perilous and, as I write this, still unfinished rescue is riveting TV audiences around the world on a Sunday morning?
I was writing about the Thai boys, just as I was also writing about other children from other faraway lands that most Americans have never visited, who come from similar hardscrabble backgrounds and who have problems that differ in many ways but who ultimately have the same desire — to get out alive from a grim situation that was no fault of their own.
The children of God are trapped in a cave outside of Mae Sai, Thailand — some 8,000 miles away — but they are also hopping atop moving trains and wading across dangerous rivers to flee the gangs in San Pedro Sula, or they are trapped in neighborhoods in Philadelphia or Chicago where the murder rates are too damn high. God's children are our children, too, but we grown-ups can have funny ways of showing our love and mercy.
What is happening at this very minute in northern Thailand is a reminder of how we are supposed to act when children anywhere are in danger. We are supposed to move heaven and earth, and spare no expense. And this time, that's exactly what happened. Top divers from around the world descended on remote Chiang Rai to assist a team of highly skilled Thai SEALS. Helicopters buzzed overhead and a large fleet of ambulances idled nearby. Journalists from around the world chronicled every development, great or small, and even the president of the United States has expressed a newfound interest in the topic of reuniting children with their families.
But — as exhilarating and joyful as the news of Sunday morning's so-far successful rescues have been — it's impossible to watch the breathless news coverage from Thailand and not be reminded of how shamefully Trump's United States government has been treating far too many of the children of God these days.
At the very moment that brave SEALs are squeezing through rocky, narrow passages to get to these stranded soccer boys, the U.S. government — even under an order from a federal judge — has made close to zero progress in reducing the ridiculous number of small children still separated from their mothers or fathers after agents broke up their families at the southern border. In fact, Trump administration officials don't even know how many kids there are — it may be 3,000, or 250x as many children as were in that cave — let alone know how to reunite them with their parents. A key hearing in this case was postponed for the weekend because the government's lawyer was dog-sitting.
At the very same moment that Thai officials were pumping oxygen into the cave to keep children alive, the Center for Investigative Reporting was revealing that a U.S. government contractor had been detaining dozens of migrant kids inside a vacant Phoenix office building with dark windows, no kitchen and only a handful of bathrooms.
How do we square the daring rescue of children in Chiang Rai with news that the U.S. government returned a 14-month-old baby to her mother at the Mexican border — after 85 days in government custody — allegedly covered in body lice, or the tale of a 1-year-old child who was made to defend himself in a U.S. immigration court while he drank milk from a bottle, played with a purple ball and occasionally cried out for "agua"?
Sure, it's easier to focus on the hard-but-achievable mission of rescuing kids from a cave than on the much more complex problems faced by millions of children around the world who need a lot more help from us adults — the kids who who can't go to class in Puerto Rico because no one feels an urgent need to turn on the lights, or those who had to close down a Chicago expressway to get grown-ups to hear their plea for more jobs and less gun violence, or the children who go to the inadequate schools or still lack health insurance in the world's richest nation.
Sunday's dramatic news from the other side of the world cast a bright light on something that should have been crystal clear all along: Our basic humanity depends on how far we're willing to go to save our children. In this case, the world's widest ocean was no match for America's love and compassion for 12 boys trapped in a cave — so why can't that same love transcend something as transient and as artificial as a simple border fence?
It seems like so many of the problems that America faces right now aren't as complicated as we insist on making them, that things could all be worked out if we could just start at that one simple place of the heart, which is seeing the children of God everywhere. How can we rescue them?