WASHINGTON — Catholic bishops are highlighting the need to care for refugees fleeing violent situations in their homelands as the ongoing influx of unaccompanied child migrants into the U.S. continues.
Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo of Seattle, head of the U.S. bishops’ migration committee, discussed the issue in an Aug. 1 column for The Washington Post.
“Let’s not kid ourselves. Subjecting these children to removal without the due process of a formal immigration hearing would no doubt mean that the vast majority would be returned to the gangs and drug cartels that threaten them in Central America,” he said.
“Sadly, Congress and the Obama administration are twisted in knots over a situation that many nations around the world handle as a matter of course,” reflected Bishop Elizondo.
The Seattle bishop pointed out that other countries, such as Lebanon, have received more than 1 million refugees from Syria, a number far outweighing the tens of thousands that arrive in America. The U.S., known to be the largest economy in the world, should be able to handle a much smaller population than the Syrian refugees in Lebanon, he said.
“The real issue here is who we are as Americans. As a leader in human-rights protection around the world, we often instruct other nations to receive refugees or protect human rights. Yet when child refugees appear on our own border, we struggle to respond in a humane way,” the bishop stated.
While there are legitimate concerns about the long-term effects of the current immigration policy, Bishop Elizondo said, sending children back to violent and war-torn countries without due process cannot be the answer.
“We cannot allow vulnerable children and families, many of whom are facing horrors that most Americans cannot imagine, to be the victims of forces far beyond their control,” he said. “When Congress meets in September, let us hope that it agrees and adopts a humane approach to addressing this crisis.”
The bishop also highlighted the need to address the root causes of immigration, primarily violence in Central America. He suggested that anti-violence initiatives, humane reintegration programs and investment in youth are necessary to solve these problems, which will in turn ease the border crisis.
“The world is watching and will take note of what we do. Our moral authority is at stake. If we sacrifice these children for political expediency, we may end up sacrificing our soul,” he concluded.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, also spoke out on the issue in an Aug. 3 column for the archdiocese.
“Caring for the downtrodden, the outcast, the stranger among us is part of our call as Catholics,” he stressed.
“Children are fleeing violence and risking their lives with the hope of finding family and shelter here,” he said, and the faithful should be guided by the words of Christ, “Whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.”
Cardinal Dolan explained that he has been focused on the vulnerability of refugees and immigrants “because I meet them everywhere I go throughout our archdiocese: men, women and children so grateful to be in America, so searching to find a home here, so eager to work, settle down and become part of a nation that has traditionally welcomed and embraced the immigrant.”
He voiced frustration that immigration-reform efforts seem to have become entangled in partisan and self-interested politics, while Catholic charities, parishes, professionals and volunteers do their best to provide for the immediate needs of those at their doors.
“These young people can’t wait for immigration reform,” he said. “As Pope Francis rightly points out, this is a humanitarian emergency, and however they got here, these young people must be cared for now.”