By Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem
There are thousands of children crossing the border, fleeing inhumane conditions in their home countries especially El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras as well as Mexico. This was not entirely unexpected by those who advocate for immigrants and who push for reform.
What is unusual is the age of these refugees, some very young. They tell of no hope back home. This was the last desperate attempt by their parents to try at least get some of the family to survive.
For years some Guatemalans that we serve told me there is no meaningful work in Guatemala.
The same could be said for much of Central America and Mexico. Much of this has its roots in American trade policy. There will be no substantial immigration reform until we rethink and redo our trade policies with Latin America. They insure vast importation of American grain and other goods which drive out local farms and businesses.
The governments of these countries and the wealthy benefit, but the people suffer. Some years back they were rioting in Mexico over the price of tortillas after NAFTA was fully felt in Mexico. This woke up some people, but had little effect. Every time things go bad south of the border the only hope is migrate to “El Norte.” Nothing changes that. We have got to stop exploiting Latin America.
The Dignity Campaign, among other things, advocates a revision of trade policies. It emphasizes fair trade, not just free trade. It emphasizes the local producer over corporate interests. Unless conditions improve in Mexico and Central America there can be no real immigration reform. We need to hold hearings about the effects of CAFTA and NAFTA and collect evidence about the way those agreements displace people.
Now we have a humanitarian disaster. The Catholic bishops have asked the White House and Congress to protect unaccompanied children from other countries and respond to the root causes of poverty.
Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, Auxiliary Bishop of Seattle and head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committee on Migration, urged the government to protect these children from the dangers of human trafficking, smugglers, gangs and organized crime. The bishops stress this as a humanitarian issue and not one to be used to make political points.
Further, a delegation from the USCCB Committee on Migration visited Mexico and Central America to examine factors driving child migration to the United States. Bishop Elizondo said, “It is truly a humanitarian crisis which requires a comprehensive response and cooperation between the branches of the U.S. government. Young lives are at stake.”
A draft memo from Homeland Security said that 90,000 children could be arrested trying to illegally cross the Mexican border. This is more than three times the number of children apprehended last year. They declare this a “crisis.”
“People that live north have no idea what’s going on down here, and if they did, they would be appalled by what the government is letting happen,” said Chris Cabrera, vice president of the National Border Patrol Council in the Rio Grande Valley, a U.S. Border Patrol Workers Union. They are overwhelmed. Needed resources are lacking. There are not enough immigration court judges to do the work. These children have rights.
The word we need to incorporate into this discussion is ‘compassion.’ We need to treat these children and their families with compassion.
Relief agencies are reaching out, but they need more help. The Catholic Church is speaking up. We can do better. No church in the country has more Latino members than we do. It is imperative that every way we can, we raise consciences to this problem.
First, by reaching out to the children to ensure that they are treated in a fair, just and legal manner, and receive fair due process. Second, support efforts to reunite families. Third, lobby the government to provide legal relief. Fourth, to push for fair and just immigration reform that goes beyond what is called comprehensive.
The bills in the works today do not really address a meaningful path to citizenship. Workers are not fully protected. The underlying causes, like those mentioned in the beginning, are not addressed.
(Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem, lives at the Priory of St. Moses the Black, Jackson.)