Bishop Who Visited El Salvador: Women and Children at Border Are Genuine Refugees

«How hard it must be for parents to reach the point of realizing that the only chance their children have for escaping violence and possible death is to put money in their hands and send them north, even at the cost of possibly never seeing them again»

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Here is a July 25 statement from Bishop Anthony B. Taylor of Little Rock, Arkansas, regarding the humanitarian crisis at the US-Mexico border.

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For the last four years I have served as a member of the Committee on Migration of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. In that capacity, I visited El Salvador two months ago as part of a Regional Consultation on Migration looking into the plight of refugees fleeing violence and extreme poverty in Central America.

My role was to assess the situation of our brothers and sisters who are forced to leave their homes by tragic circumstances beyond their control. The cause is the anarchy and violence in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras because they are failed states.

It is important to recognize that many of the women and children — many of them unaccompanied — who have recently come to the United States are genuine refugees with well-founded fear of death if they refuse to join the criminal gangs that control their neighborhoods, and most have already suffered some form of violence or severe intimidation prior to fleeing northward.

Indeed, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has found that 58 percent of these women and children could qualify for international protection as refugees and thus are not necessarily breaking the law. Like any refugees fleeing persecution, they are entitled to legal protections under U.S. law and international law.

We can assist these women and children in their time of need. Many of these refugees already have relatives in the United States with whom they can be placed, but if necessary we could accommodate quite a few of them in our Catholic parishes if federal guidelines would just let us. And while it is true that some of these 60,000 are not refugees in the strictest sense of the term, all of them come from desperate circumstances. Pope Francis has called for the care and protection of these children. In a recent letter he wrote: «Such a humanitarian emergency demands as its first measure the urgent protection and properly taking in of the children.»

Why can’t the governments in Central America solve their own problems? We have to recognize that El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala are failed states and it is simply unrealistic to expect them to solve this problem on their own. Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world, with El Salvador and Guatemala numbers four and five. Drug cartels are strengthening their hold on these countries as shipping routes for drugs to Mexico and the United States. Children are specifically targeted to join gangs or are threatened with death or rape or both. The governments of this region are increasingly unable to protect their citizens.

The current humanitarian crisis is a test of the moral character of our nation. This crisis should not be exploited as an opportunity for political posturing, but rather serve as a chance for bipartisan cooperation to humanely address this issue.

But the larger question is not merely what to do to manage this humanitarian crisis on our southern border, but rather whether we intend to take the steps necessary to solve the problem. Until we solve the problems that generate the human misery that forces people to leave their homelands, nothing will really change. Any long-term solution will require putting the human person at the center of our economy, at the center of our culture and at the center of our system of laws — a real change in the way we do things as a nation.

This will out of necessity lead to comprehensive immigration reform that facilitates the natural demographic flow in response to the economic and workforce realities of supply and demand, the protection of the vulnerable and family reunification. Solving these problems in the United States will lead to changes also in a world economy that currently consigns most people to abject poverty and to conversion of hearts regarding the importance of solidarity in the pursuit of the common good of all people, not merely the wealthy and powerful.

What can we do to help our brothers and sisters in need right now? Inasmuch as vigilant federal guidelines do not presently allow the release of these women and children to local families who would open their homes to them, our main options to be of assistance are currently as follows:

-Examine our own hearts. How do we see the people who are like refugees at our border? Do we see them as objects who threaten our lifestyle or can we see them as children without any hope, as parents who just want the best for their families, as people who are so desperate for a safe place to live that they risk walking a thousand miles just to find it. What does love demand of us?

-Keep these women and children in our prayers. They have endured a treacherous journey and face an uncertain future — much like the Holy Family fleeing to Egypt for refuge when they saw that their Son was in mortal danger. Be the voice of the voiceless. I encourage each of us to reach out to our elected officials to remind them that this refugee crisis is of a humanitarian character. Demand that they set aside partisan differences and work to promote sound and just economic and immigration policies that respond to the realities that lie at the root of this crisis.

-Provide donations of needed money and supplies. The dioceses of Texas are on the front lines of this crisis and the Texas Catholic Conference maintains a list of current needs on their website. Catholic Charities USA also has a fundraising page for this need.

How hard it must be for parents to reach the point of realizing that the only chance their children have for escaping violence and possible death is to put money in their hands and send them north, even at the cost of possibly never seeing them again, but also with the hope that our hearts might be moved to help their children have a chance for a better life. Hence this is a human crisis for us as well —»crisis» in the sense of a time of decision in which we reveal who we really are before God.

Our faith in Jesus demands a response and there is no way that we can justify responding with indifference, anger, fear and just letting this be someone else’s problem. Short term we need to take care of the children, mothers and others in real danger of death should they return home. These are people just like us who are facing horrible life-threatening conditions. We as a country face an equal fate if we close our hearts, view the desperate people who come to our doors as a threat to our own prosperity and choose instead to close the door in their face.

Sincerely in Christ,

+Anthony B. Taylor
Bishop of Little Rock

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