“Migrants and refugees are not pawns on the chessboard of humanity. They are children, women and men who leave or who are forced to leave their homes for various reasons, who share a legitimate desire for knowing and having, but above all for being more.”
– Pope Francis’ message for World Day for Migrants and Refugees, January 19, 2014
The United States is a nation of immigrants. We rely on immigrants to contribute to our economy and our society. According to a study by the National Immigration Forum, the average immigrant will pay an estimated $80,000 more in taxes than they will receive in local, state, and federal benefits over their lifetimes. Their contribution is necessary for our country’s growth.
At the same time we continually push the 11.7 million undocumented immigrants into the shadows, through mass deportations, criminalization of migrants, and militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border, leaving them vulnerable and insecure. This is after they survived a horrendous journey getting here. We will never know how many thousands of people have died crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, or along the routes from their homes to the border.
34,000 people are held in immigration detention on any given day, to fill a congressionally-mandated bed quota. They are held in hundreds of local prisons, jails, and private contract facilities throughout the U.S.
Like anything else in Washington, immigration policy is a hugely polarized issue. The amount of politics and partisanship which surround the issue do nothing to address what is occurring today at our southwestern border – a humanitarian crisis.
Thousands of Central American migrants have been pouring into the United States in an effort to flee the conditions which make it impossible for them to stay in their home countries. They come in search of peace, fleeing exponential murder rates, gang and drug violence, and corrupt governments. They come in search of dignity, in their work and their lives. The November 2013 fact-finding mission report by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the March 2014 report by the U.N. Refugee Agency confirm this.
The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime reported that Honduras currently has the highest homicide rate in the world, with murder rates of girls and women increasing by 346%, and men and boys by 292% since 2005. Children are often recruited and forced to participate in gang violence. Walking to and from school and even attending school is a vulnerable activity for children. Current immigration policy turns a blind eye to the plight of these people, to the realities they face.
As Catholics, our faith calls us to embrace the stranger – recalling what Pope Francis said, that migrants are human beings, people like us. The thousands of unaccompanied children at the border could be any one of our nation’s children. Families that are split apart by our country’s policies resemble our own. Our shared humanity requires us to stand in solidarity with our migrant brothers and sisters. Focusing more attention on the plight of the migrants themselves, rather than adding resources to border security or failed policy, will do more to stem the flow of migrants and aid these children.
Columbans are active at the border in El Paso, Texas, at the Columban Mission Center, offering hospitality and assistance. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has reached out to many faith groups, including the Columban Mission Center, to ask their help to house and care for these people after they are released from short-term detention.
Matthew 25 concludes with the Judgment of the Nations, describing how right intention leads to right action.
“Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’”