Franciscan Friars Call on Obama to Address Border Crisis Compassionately

Maria Hayes In the Headlines

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The Franciscan friars of the United States have called on President Barack Obama to address the growing humanitarian crisis on the U.S.-Mexican border.

In an Aug. 15 letter, the provincial ministers of the seven OFM provinces — including Kevin Mullen, OFM — asked the president to increase direct leadership to meet the immediate needs of the thousands of unaccompanied child refugees arriving at the border, as well as ensuring that they have qualified legal counsel and due process of law.

“We are reminded in scripture (Matthew 25:31-40) that a people will be judged by how they treat their ‘least brothers and sisters.’ The current situation, with children’s lives in the balance, poses just such a test for the people of our country,” wrote the provincials, who represent more than 1,100 friars. “We must strive to rise to the best of humanity by providing safe harbor to these children and seeking long-term solutions to their plight.”

The Franciscan friars have been serving child refugees in various ways for years. On the U.S.-Mexico border, friars have created places of comfort and healing in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and Mexico. In Washington, D.C., ministries provide legal assistance to the children in their asylum cases, as well as compassionate support to them in their trauma. Throughout the country, friars and their partners-in-ministry support efforts that provide foster care and reduce the economic burden of doing so. And in Central American countries, friars work tirelessly to provide safe places, where children may discover hope for their futures.

“We offer this litany of our service not to draw attention to ourselves, for we are only doing the work to which we are called in our religious vocation,” the provincials stated. “We offer this account to show the credibility from which we speak.”

The provincials urged President Obama to do the following:

  1. Refuse to return young people to their countries of origin without them first having a hearing before an immigration judge, while receiving qualified legal counsel
  2. Give dignified shelter and care, as well as counseling and trauma support, to child refugees
  3. Provide Temporary Protected Status to all persons from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador

“Beyond our requests, we commit ourselves to continue in service to these refugees,” said the provincials. “We offer our prayers for you and for the traumatized children seeking the chance to live. May the guidance of the One who called the children to Himself provide us all the strength and courage we need to make things better.”

At the request of the provincials, the U.S. OFM Commission on Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation sent a letter to friars providing them with resources and avenues for action that will further the provincials’ request to President Obama. The commission especially encouraged friars to do the following:

  1. Educate yourself and the communities you serve about the facts of the crisis, using resources provided on the ESC’s website
  2. Contact Catholic Charities to learn what can be done to respond to the immediate needs of unaccompanied child refugees in your area
  3. Engage in advocacy and encourage your ministries to do the same, especially:
    1. Contact members of Congress at 1-888-562-8232 and urge them to:
      1. Oppose attempts to “fast track” the removal of unaccompanied child refugees without their case being heard by an immigration judge
      2. Provide adequate funding to protect the children arriving in the U.S. and to respond to their basic needs, including legal representation, while their immigration cases are pending
      3. Address the issues that compel children to flee their homes by providing funding for targeted development programs in Central America and Mexico, and comprehensive regional plans to address these issues

“This humanitarian crisis challenges us to ‘be who we are’ in caring for those most in need,” the commission stated. “As our provinces continue to discern our reorganization as a Franciscan community in the U.S., this collective action will help us to share our common story, a commitment to live out Franciscan values.”

The JPIC commission includes Russell Testa, Holy Name Province’s director of JPIC, and five friars and a siter representing the other U.S. provinces. They are Fr. Chris Gaffrey, OFM, of Immaculate Conception, Sr. Donna Graham, OSF, of St. John the Baptist, Br. Mark Schroeder, OFM, of St. Barbara and Our Lady of Guadalupe, Fr. Maury Smith, OFM, of Sacred Heart and Fr. Jason Welle, OFM, of Assumption BVM.

Maria Hayes is communications coordinator for Holy Name Province.