American Missionaries Detained in Haiti

Ronnie Steinitz/Guardian

Turns out Even Charity Has Rules

Ten Americans who tried to take 33 Haitian children across the border to the Dominican Republic have been charged with abduction and criminal association — and while they’re clearly in the wrong, it should be obvious they were acting out of naive idealism, not calculated evil.

The detainees, most of whom are Baptist missionaries from Idaho, claim they wanted to take the children to what they described as an orphanage. But Haitian officials say the group lacked the proper documents to transport the children out of the country.

All 10 of the detainees were so ridiculously unaware that they were doing something unlawful that they said they were surprised when they were detained by Haitian Laura Silsby, the group’s leader, and even asked that they be released and allowed to continue their work in Haiti.

Yet there seems to be a deeper story to all this.

Maybe no one had malicious intentions. But while nine of the group’s members did not know that official paperwork was needed to cross the border, Silsby was, in fact, warned that she could be charged with trafficking if she tried to take children out of Haiti without documentation.

Why did she go through with it, and how was she able to convince the rest of the group to go along with her? The only reasonable answer: a starry-eyed dream of bringing abandoned children to safety. Except that not all of them were actually abandoned. Sure, the groups actions were irresponsible, but it looks like Silsby’s prior knowledge of Haitian regulations might get the rest of the group off the hook.

— Arik Burakovsky

Staff Writer

Don’t Give Government a Bad Rap

Despite allegedly good intentions from the 10 U.S. cross-bearing missionaries who snatched some 33 Haitian preschoolers in an effort to herd them to the Dominican Republic, these grown-ups should have wisened to the one basic religious principle: “Thou shalt not traffick children.”

It’s a shame that the U.S., which has deployed 20,000 troops to aid the earthquake-ravaged nation and raised $555 million in relief funds, is now being slapped on the wrist with a ruler and forced to wear the global dunce cap because of these misguided idiots. We already have a shaky enough international reputation, so this hiccup by 10 individuals should certainly not be taken as a reflection on our nation as a whole, or on — everyone’s favorite scapegoat — President Barack Obama.

The accused individuals have argued that a Haitian pastor authorized their removal of the children, signifying that religious duty trumps actual law, in their world. But in separating children from their living relatives — the alleged kidnappers failed to realize that some of the kids weren’t actually without family. So let it rain on these airheads’ parade — but leave the U.S. government alone, because for once, we’re not the bad guys.

— Kelsey Marrujo

Senior Staff Writer

Press Hype Detracting From the Crisis

The New York Times, CNN, Fox News and MSNBC all have one thing in common — they’ve each published over two dozen articles on the 10 American Baptists. And while the incident was indeed newsworthy, the degree to which the press has focused in on this issue is detracting from the larger problem at hand: Haiti is in a crisis.

The country’s death toll has risen to 212,000, and those who survived last month’s earthquake face grave conditions. By giving so much attention to the 10 Americans that may or may not have abducted a group of Haitian children, the press is drawing our eyes away from what truly matters: aiding the country in its relief efforts.

Instead of reporting on whether or not the 10 Americans will be able to make bail, the greater focus must be on helping repair the hundreds of thousands of lives that have been devastated by the natural disaster. Pushing ourselves into the international spotlight in the face of foreign tragedy isn’t only absurdly self-centered; it’s unfair to the nation whose recovery will be a long and grueling process yet.

— Cheryl Hori

Associate Opinion Editor

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