Immigrant children deserve refugee status

Millennial Reflections
By Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem
Last month I wrote about the children at the border. As stories go their plight may get put on the back page with even more alarming news from Ukraine or the Middle East coming front and center. These children represent the least among us, and have no voice. We have to be their voice.
Even the major news networks have praised the heroic efforts Catholic Charities in the Southwest is putting forth to provide for their necessities and well being. The agency stands out as being non-political, bypassing all the rhetoric and hate talk. Their work cannot be praised enough.
The journeys of these children, some with mothers and siblings, are the last attempt for these families to survive. The economies of these countries have been wrecked by American trade policies, NAFTA and CAFTA. The lack of work fuels the illicit drug trade, as it does in the cities in the United States. The drug lords fight over turf and power. Their influence runs these governments. Corruption is rampant. Tegucigalpa, the capitol of Honduras, is the murder capitol of the world. Murders are so frequent, many go uninvestigated. Children see bodies on the street daily. They witness violence daily. They are traumatized daily.
The need for qualified attorneys in immigration law is critical in order that these children’s rights be protected. In addition, specially trained social workers are needed in order to conduct proper interviews that capture as much as possible what these children have gone through.
They and their families have an abiding belief in America. They believe what many of us were taught in grade school, that immigrants made the country what it is. This country welcomes everybody. The stories are legend. This belief is shared by people all over the world.
We are experiencing a new nativism movement, just as ugly as the nineteenth century version.
I continue to make the point, immigrants are scapegoated to insure a continuous flow of cheap labor. This steps all over human rights and what our church teaches. Whatever your views are on the immigration issue, and all points of view should be treated with respect in civil dialogue, the Catholic Church is the spiritual fortress of immigrants’ struggle for human rights.
President Obama met with the presidents of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. They said that demand for drugs in the United States is what fuels the drug cartels in Mexico and Central America. I would add to that, the lack of legal, meaningful work creates a vacuum where the drug trade thrives, as well as the influence it has on all levels of government.
This creates a state of low-level, undeclared war and the poor are caught in it. These children are refugees, and should be accorded their full rights under the law, and treated as such.
The pressure on the White House is intense. Immigrant groups have massed in Washington under the banner “No more meetings about us, without us.” They have already met with the Center for American Progress, the National Immigration Forum, and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights before rallying in front of the White House.
They are simply asking that the people most impacted by immigration reform have a seat at the table. White House spokesman, Shawn Turner, said in an email that “Obama and his senior staff meet regularly with immigration advocates and supporters to discuss the immigration issue.”
Much more needs to be done. More voices need to be heard. The children at the border, run willingly into the arms of the border patrol. They trust them. They believe in America, that America will do the right thing. Our bishops support them.
(Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem, lives at the Priory of St. Moses the Black, Jackson)