NEW YORK — In response to the overwhelming number of unaccompanied children arriving at the southern border of the United States seeking refuge from violence in Central America, the Franciscan friars of Holy Name Province are calling on the U.S. government and all people to provide immediate humanitarian action.
In a statement released July 31, the friars encourage all to “hold up the values of justice, compassion and hospitality to counter anti-immigration action, slogans and hate speech, wherever they occur.”
Many of the Province’s ministries serve immigrant and refugee communities. One child refugee from St. Camillus Church, the multi-cultural parish in Silver Spring, Md., shared the following story in the statement.
Jose, 15, was detained in the United States after fleeing Honduras. His parents had owned a small business there. When a drug cartel asked them to assist with the cartel’s criminal activities, Jose’s parents refused. The next day, they were brutally murdered. A violent gang tried to recruit Jose, who sought refuge in the United States. He says that returning to Honduras “would be a death sentence.”
The United States is not the only country receiving an influx of unaccompanied child refugees from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Since 2009, Belize, Costa Rica, Mexico, Nicaragua and Panama have seen a 712 percent increase in refugees seeking asylum.
The Pope’s Challenge
Pope Francis has challenged Americans to consider the factors that compel children to embark alone on a perilous journey to hoped-for safety.
“I would like to draw attention to the tens of thousands of children who migrate alone, unaccompanied, to escape poverty and violence,” the pope said during a July 15 address. “This humanitarian crisis requires, as a first urgent measure, that these children be welcomed and protected.”
Holy Name Province encourages Catholics to contact their parish and local Catholic Charities office to learn what they can do to respond to the immediate needs of unaccompanied child refugees.
The friars also urge people to contact members of Congress at 1-888-562-8232 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 first appearing before an immigration judge.
- Provide adequate funding to protect unaccompanied children arriving in the U.S. and respond to their basic needs, including legal representation while their immigration 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.
Those with questions or concerns about unaccompanied child refugees are encouraged to visit JusticeforImmigrants.org to learn the facts of the current situation.
In addition, several documents provide helpful information, according to Russell Testa, director of the Province’s Office for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation. They are:
- “Ten Ways to Welcome Children at Our Border” from CLINIC, the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc.
- “Unaccompanied Migrant Children: USCCB Advocacy Toolkit” from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
- A “myths and facts” document from the Jesuits and the Washington Office on Latin America
“Together with our Franciscan Call to Action, these documents can assist us both in welcoming the children and advocating for needed change to the social systems,” said Testa. “A great deal of misinformation and unchecked rhetoric about this situation is circulating. We will continue to identify and pass along resources to enable all of us to shed light on the truth and promote a compassionate response to these children.”
To learn more about the history of violence in Central America and why so many people are fleeing El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, Testa recommends readers watch the following video, created by the Jesuit Refugee Service/USA.
The Province’s statement was compiled by the HNP Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Office and Directorate. Additional resources about the Province’s stance on comprehensive immigration reform are provided in the Justice and Peace section of the HNP website.
— Maria Hayes is communications coordinator for Holy Name Province.