NICK EICHER, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: Keeping families together in Central America.
The issues at the southern U.S. border are mostly symptoms of other problems. Today we’ll hear about a Dallas-based organization trying to address problems in other countries that lead to illegal immigration.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: Albert Reyes heads Buckner International, which works to strengthen families and help children in Central America.
Buckner also works with the U.S. foster care system and helps place children with adoptive families. Although it doesn’t work directly with immigrant families, Buckner joined the chorus of groups calling for an end to family separations at the border.
Thanks for joining us today, Mr. Reyes. Let’s start with the family separation issue. What did Buckner tell the Trump administration about that policy?
ALBERT REYES, GUEST: Well… we would argue that it’s never a good idea to separate children from their families and we affirm the president’s decision to stop doing that. There are children already separated for other reasons, and to do that intentionally just doesn’t seem like a very good idea even though the situation at the border is quite unique with people coming without documents. But if there’s a way to keep the family together and process them to either stay or be returned, we think keeping the family together is in the best interest of the child. So that’s what we support.
Buckner looks at country of origin and actually tries to help solve problems that gets people to flee in the first place.
REYES: That’s exactly right. We are in Peru, Honduras, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, and in Mexico. And in those countries, we assist the government in building capacity for serving the children in their care and then we try to get through family home centers, as you said, to the root cause of what causes families to become unstable. And we feel like we can strengthen and help families reach stabilization where they are, in their own communities, that they can thrive if given the opportunity and the resources to be successful as a family. And that really lessens the desire or the perceived need that the only option is to come north to the border… People actually do want to stay where they are, but they also want to eat and they want to provide for their children, they want to be successful as a family, and it’s critical that they’re given that opportunity.
Give us an example on the ground in Guatemala, for example, of what can be done to solidify family support. How would that be accomplished?
REYES: Right. Well, you know, I have found that wherever I go, when we encounter families that are struggling, if you pull out the opportunity for economic success for a family—meaning mom or dad or both have a way to earn a living and put food on the table, provide for their children—when that aspect of family life is removed, almost 100 percent of the times I see it, the family disintegrates, falls apart, you’ve got alcohol abuse, drug abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, it just deteriorates. And in many cases, children are separated. In some cases, the only option they have to survive is to go somewhere else where there’s safety, security, and opportunity. Now, if you put the economic piece in, it doesn’t mean you’re going to have a good family. But if you take it out, it does mean they’re going to fall apart. So, I think that’s critical. Buckner goes in and we do family coaching, families get better, stronger, kids get to stay in their family, it doesn’t require the government to provide other services that the family would need if it fell apart… So that’s how it works. We work to keep families together at home. We think it’s the right thing to do. Plus, it does save taxpayer money.
And, finally, you say people really should just ask what Mr. Fred Rogers said we should ask. What’s that question and what’s that answer?
REYES: Yeah, it’s “How can I be a good neighbor?” And we’ve got to think by our neighbors are those in close proximity geographically, but there are also neighbors at the border, there are neighbors in our hemisphere, there are neighbors in the global village. I think it’s, when we think about “Who is our neighbor?” it really can go far beyond just down the street and good neighbors build good communities, and I think looking for the interest of children wherever they might be found is our mission.
Albert Reyes is president and CEO of Buckner International in Dallas, Texas. Thank you for speaking with us today.
REYES: You bet. Thank you.