There have been so many contrasts that mark the profound difference between the previous administration and the one that currently occupies the White House. But a singular, unguarded smile like that of the young Nicaraguan boy Wilton Gutiérrez, captured in a recent photo, could symbolize all that has happened and is happening, at least on the issue of U.S. immigration.
It’s not so simple, of course. And it’s plausible that undocumented immigrants are now receiving dignified and humane treatment at the border, since that was one of the promises of the current administration. Of course, fulfilling it is their political and moral obligation.
But there’s no doubt that after four long years of disgrace suffered by immigrants of color, especially those who sought asylum coming from the poorest regions of Latin America, to see the smile of this Central American child reproduced in so many outlets and social networks means a lot.
And not only because Wilton, at 10 years old, was found seeking asylum at the border just this past April alone, after having been abandoned by the group of migrants he was traveling with, but because his supplications and tears represented in that very moment what millions of migrants around the world face–those who find themselves far from their countries of origin in search of a better turn on this planet.
The most recent figures remind us that there are more than 270 million migrants throughout the world, which includes around 40 million children, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), a figure that could grow at leaps and bounds if the welcoming countries do not begin to modify their relationship and responsibility on the issue of global migration.
In that way, Wilton’s situation was rather grave, since he had not only physical fatigue and hunger, but the complete lack of knowledge about the place he was in. That is, he was a small human being lost in himself, without any tools other than the instinct to survive and common sense, which for his age he knew how to navigate very well.
The fact that this story has ended well is also important, not for the subsequent coverage of the “happy ending,” but because if this had occurred just one year earlier—during one of the most anti-immigrant and xenophobic administrations in the history of the United States, that of Donald Trump—little Wilton would have been ignored, sent to a detention center where he would remain, caged, in some of the worst and most careless conditions and, finally, lost his case in the migration trap that the former president’s advisors set to deter other migrants.
His deportation, of course, would have been a fact; or rather, he would have waited months, if not years, without the possibility of seeing his family again, as occurred at that time to thousands of migrant children who were separated from their parents at the border, many of whom are still being reunited with their relatives, thanks to the special task force created by the Biden administration to do just that.
What caused an administration like Trump’s to adopt xenophobia as an immigration policy, especially targeting migrant children, and what inspires the Biden administration to counteract all of that negativity that is still tainting the image of U.S. society, nationally and internationally, with fairer and more humane immigration policies?
Those and many other questions remain in the air without a concrete answer, beyond what each of the parties give as justification for their immigration policies, one against and the other in favor of these very immigrants. In fact, the final termination of the “Remain in Mexico” program, which forced asylum-seekers to await a response to their cases for months on Mexican territory, or Biden’s plan to speed up immigration processing, and extending TPS for the Haitian community, are the most recent decisions that suggest an even greater benefit for millions of undocumented immigrants who have waited decades to regularize their status.
But in the meantime, and even now that an enormous debt remains owed to immigrants, it’s comforting to see that something is moving toward the right side of history. Because, when was the last time we saw an undocumented child smile in relation to his own story?
These little things cannot go unnoticed, not any longer.
To read the Spanish version of this article click here.