There is a humanitarian and refugee crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border. Unaccompanied children are making a perilous journey north, fleeing the furnace of violence targeting youth in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, and seeking to reunite with their families in the United States. The numbers of unaccompanied children may approach 90,000 this year, and they are fleeing from countries with some of the highest murder rates in the world.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and other faith communities are calling for the children to be treated as refugees fleeing violent criminal gangs and drug cartels in their home countries. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) agrees.
Last year, according to UNHCR, close to 60 percent of the children they interviewed were fleeing violence and qualified for refugee status. This year, the rates are likely to be even higher. Currently, thousands of unaccompanied children are being placed in overcrowded detention centers. They will likely be exposed to expedited removal from the U.S., without the opportunity to make their case before an immigration judge – unless we act as a Catholic community to raise our voices and ensure their safety and protection.
There are many reasons for this crisis that go back decades and generations: support for military governments, free trade agreements that undercut local farmers leading to more poverty and increased migration, a military coup in Honduras, and the violence of corrupt police, drug cartels and youth gangs. What is clear, however, is that these children must not be made the scapegoats of a broken immigration system and failed U.S. policies in the region.
Bishop Mark Seitz, the Catholic bishop of the Diocese of El Paso, Texas, where the Columban Mission Center is located, recently testified before the House Judiciary Committee. His words are unequivocal. The children crossing the U.S.–Mexico border are “a test of the moral character” of our nation. “We must not fail this test.” “Too often,” he remarked in his testimony, “these children are being looked at with distrust . . . instead of as vulnerable and frightened children who have been introduced to the injustice and horror of the world at an early age. Anyone who hears the stories of these children would be moved, as they are victims fleeing violence and terror.”
In Brownsville, Texas, Bishop Daniel Flores opened Immaculate Conception Cathedral and received the youngest guest: a one-day-old baby girl: “What we are seeing unfold in front of our eyes,” he said, is “a humanitarian and refugee reality, not an immigration problem. The Church must respond in the best way we can to human need. At the same time we need to ask our government to act responsibly to address the reality of migrant refugees. A hemispheric response is needed, not a simple border response. And we ask the government to protect the church’s freedom to serve people.”
The Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach joins with Columbans on the border and in many countries around the world where migrants are served, and invites our supporters to add your voice to help these children in need today. Contact your Senators and Representatives and ask them to:
- Oppose the Obama Administration’s request for “fast track” authority to speed the removal of unaccompanied children back to their countries without due process protections;
- Provide adequate funding to protect unaccompanied children arriving in the U.S. and respond to their basic needs, including legal representation while their cases are pending;
- Address the root causes that compel children to flee their homes by providing robust funding for targeted development programs in Central America and Mexico and a comprehensive regional plan to address this issue.
Faith in Action: Send a letter to Congress to Ensure the Safety of Unaccompanied Child Migrants