No matter which side of the political divide you may identify with, it’s hard to dispute that what is happening right now at the U.S.-Mexico border is nothing short of a humanitarian crisis.
Thousands of children from Central America and Mexico are sleeping in clumps on warehouse floors after seeking a safe haven north of the Rio Grande. Many Border Patrol stations currently look more like campgrounds than government facilities. To make matters worse, these children — some as young as 4 years old — are traveling alone, having forged their way for hundreds of miles in search of safety and refuge. In early June, Border Patrol officers requested FEMA assistance to deal with the influx of children crossing the border.
It stands to reason that part of the motivation for their journeys is U.S. policy. The Homeland Security Act of 2002 and the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 provide safeguards for unaccompanied minors, mandating that they be transferred from Border Patrol custody to the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement. Another law passed in 2012 further protects young people. This leniency, rightly put in place to care for “the best interests of the child,” results in the deportation of only a small percentage of these young immigrants. The Obama administration estimates that 90,000 minors will have crossed illegally into the United States from Mexico by the time the fiscal year ends in September.
But another factor — and a big one — contributing to the large numbers of minors crossing the border is the increased violence in Central America in recent years. According to a 2014 report sponsored in part by the Latin American Public Opinion Project at Vanderbilt University, Central America “has been devastated by alarming increases in crime and violence” during the last decade. Decisions to migrate, the report states, significantly increase when the individual has been a victim of crime or corruption in his or her home country. As can be imagined, fear of crime also plays a role. According to the 2013 Global Study on Homicide, released by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the homicide rate for male victims ages 15-29 in Central America is “more than four times the global average rate for that age group.”
Is it any wonder parents are looking for alternatives?
These are the bare-boned facts, and Pope Francis consistently has reminded Catholics in the United States and the world to look at them with eyes of compassion and mercy.
As illustrated in the story on Page 4, Catholic churches on the front lines in Texas have responded to this call by opening up their parish halls and their hearts to young migrants, providing them with blankets, clothing and food. The U.S. bishops, too, have reinforced the message of the Holy Father. Visiting the U.S./Mexico border in Arizona in early April, a group of bishops, including Boston Cardinal Seán O’Malley, urged compassion as they celebrated Mass. Quoting Pope Francis, Cardinal O’Malley said, “we have lost a sense of responsibility for our brothers and sisters.”
More than 300 participants gathered for the Mass on the U.S. side of the border. But even more strikingly, hundreds more participated in the liturgy on the Mexico side, receiving Communion on hands stretched out between the wooden slats of the fence. This image of separation, yet unity, is a fitting reminder that not only are the men and women south of the border our brothers and sisters, they are our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor