Images of hundreds of caged children again dominate the nightly newscasts. Wrapped in plastic thermal blankets, crowded into cages at detention camps at the U.S. southern border, the new arrivals from the Central America huddle in silence. Images of their peril break our hearts.

This is the third wave of unaccompanied minors at our border in less than a decade. The first wave of 25,000 unaccompanied children from Central America overran the southern border of the United States and overwhelmed the Obama-Biden administration in 2012. Some were as young as 9. They had left their homeland and families to seek a new, better life. They hoped to be included in the mythical American dream. The second wave in 2014 peaked at 52,000. Both times most of them were turned back.

Currently the count of the children stands at about 19,000 and is growing. The new Biden-Harris administration struggles to cope with the challenge. But as the number of new arrivals grows, there are reports that many of the minors are already being rebuffed.

My belief is that in the past, America missed a great opportunity to show compassion, humaneness and resourcefulness to meet a daunting challenge. This time, however, America cannot afford to squander another opportunity. It must strive to live up to its reputation of being the land of dreams. The urgency and the magnitude of the current crisis is mind-boggling. But America must not capitulate or become stunned into inaction.

In a 1960 speech, John F. Kennedy suggested that the Chinese word for crisis has two characters. Separately, one written character means danger and the other character means opportunity.

The dangers that created the current crisis are well known. But also there is a hidden danger which is that an opportunity may be missed. A missed opportunity would become a tragedy.

Russia’s Lenin once said, if he were given children at ages 7 or 8, he could indoctrinate them into irreversible communists in four years.

A despot’s remark highlights the unlimited potential in children’s learning in their formative years. Could that potential be a guide in resolving our current crisis with the unaccompanied minor refugees? Couldn’t a new program produce thousands of irreversible libertarians for America?

For a start, John F. Kennedy’s Peace Corps program could serve as a model. Its success has never been equaled. A new revised program is quite likely to bear similar results. I say yes, shelter them, embrace them, nurture them, and mentor and teach them. For an example of success, one has only to look at the accomplishments of the “Dreamers.”

America’s multi-billionaires could provide considerable funding for such a new program, especially if it resulted in a worthwhile tax write-off for them. Only political intransigence of the legislators stands in the way of a solution with kindness and humanitarian compassion.

Some beneficiaries of the new program might eventually choose to return to their countries of origin, instead of seeking U.S. citizenship. But they would still be American educated, democracy-indoctrinated ambassadors.

Fred Natkevi emigrated to the U.S. from Central Europe after World War II. He is a longtime Oak Park resident.

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