Councilmember Noel Gallo, who represents the Fruitvale District, is seeking to promote a alliance between Oakland and San Francisco to pressure the federal government and involve local churches to provide humanitarian aid to Central American refugee children who cross the border and eventually arrive in the Bay Area.
“My understanding is that the children come across the border with the idea of connecting with a family member in the U..S. ” and a number end up in San Francisco and Oakland, Gallo said.
In Oakland neighborhoods, Gallo is seeing mostly young people, as young as 4 years old, along International Boulevard. A few are moving in near where he lives.
Many of those who come to Oakland are from Guatemala.
The new immigrants are often in desperate need of housing, medical care and other kinds of assistance. “I cannot do it alone, and Oakland cannot do it alone,” said Gallo, adding that he is contacting the Catholic Church and Christian churches, which are most likely to be able to provide immediate assistance.
“We’ve always had a good number of families from Guatemala in our elementary schools and at Fremont High. Some speak Spanish, others speak their native language, which is not Spanish,” he said.
He also hopes city governments can help push the federal government to be more humane to the migrants. “We’ve made contact with the consulates of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, ” said Gallo, “and we’re working with David Campos of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. We want to put pressure on the feds to be more responsible. Maybe we do it as a joint effort.”
The so-called child-migrant “surge,” expected to reach as high as 70,000 this year, began in 2011 and became a crisis this year.
Gang violence in Central America, especially in Honduras and El Salvador, is driving a substantial exodus to other countries throughout the region. Often, Teenagers in these countries are being recruited to join gangs. If they refuse, the gang will often retaliate against them and their families.
The children also face violence – including kidnapping, rape and murder – during the danger filled journey to the U.S.
Pope Francs this week issued a statement on the migrant crisis.
“Globalization is a phenomenon that challenges us, especially in one of its principal manifestations which is emigration,” he said. “Many people forced to emigrate suffer, and often, die tragically; many of their rights are violated, they are obliged to separate from their families and, unfortunately, continue to be the subject of racist and xenophobic attitudes.”
“A change of attitude towards migrants and refugees is needed on the part of everyone, moving away from attitudes of defensiveness and fear, indifference and marginalization – all typical of a throwaway culture – towards attitudes based on a culture of encounter, the only culture capable of building a better, more just and fraternal world,” he said.
“He called for support for “the tens of thousands of children who migrate alone, unaccompanied, to escape poverty and violence: This is a category of migrants from Central America and Mexico itself who cross the border with the United States under extreme conditions and in pursuit of a hope that in most cases turns out to be vain.
“As a first urgent measure, these children (should) be welcomed and protected.”