Columban missionaries on the border are assisting people seeking refuge in the United States as a result of violence and lack of due process protections in the Central American countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. They are welcoming more women and children in need of shelter than ever before. The recent spike in children coming across the border is primarily due to the desperation of families who are threatened every day with violence, death, and forcible recruitment by gangs and drug cartel members.
We are called as God’s children to care for the wounded as Jesus taught us in the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10). Victims of trafficking, especially children, are wounded both physically and emotionally. It is our moral duty as a country to give due process to all unaccompanied children, and assess if they are afforded protections by the United States.
Amending the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection and Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2008 has serious implications for these children. Forcibly removing refugees who have been victims of human trafficking could potentially send them right back to the volatile circumstances from which they are fleeing. This does not solve the problem, but rather heightens the likelihood that a child in danger will risk the perilous journey north again or again become victims.
Priests and missionaries at the Columban Mission Center in El Paso, Texas have heard many stories from individuals who have successfully fled violence in Central America. Columbans want nothing more than to see children and their families thriving in their home countries with the safety and stability that each of us as God’s children deserve.
We need a holistic approach to ending the violence in Central America: building community-based programs to counter of the power of gangs; ending the militarized approach to stemming violence; and building a civil society that protects women and children. This will more acutely address the flow of refugees currently coming to the U.S.
Pope Francis recently spoke out on this issue at the Mexico/Holy See Colloquium on Migration and Development, “This humanitarian emergency requires, as a first urgent measure, these children be welcomed and protected. These measures, however, will not be sufficient, unless they are accompanied by policies that inform people about the dangers of such a journey and, above all, that promote development in their countries of origin.” Echoing the Pope’s message, we call for a humane treatment of refugees coming across the border, and funding for development in Central America so that these children have a safe and prosperous childhood at home.