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Immigrant Children: Refugees from Failed States

July 28, AD2014 24 Comments

Bishop Anthony Taylor, ordinary of the Diocese of Little Rock, released a statement concerning the young immigrants who have arrived on our borders. If people understood the hardships of the situation in Latin America, we would not only invoke the inalienable right to immigrate but also the mercy due to refugees.  For many dioceses in the South, two issues are at the top of our lists: Pro-Life and Immigration. Both concern Family. When we talk about social doctrine of immigration, we talk about the right to work and the dignity of the human family. And The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church clearly delineates both:

297. Immigration can be a resource for development rather than an obstacle to it. In the modern world, where there are still grave inequalities between rich countries and poor countries, and where advances in communications quickly reduce distances, the immigration of people looking for a better life is on the increase. These people come from less privileged areas of the earth and their arrival in developed countries is often perceived as a threat to the high levels of well-being achieved thanks to decades of economic growth. In most cases, however, immigrants fill a labour need which would otherwise remain unfilled in sectors and territories where the local workforce is insufficient or unwilling to engage in the work in question. (

298. Institutions in host countries must keep careful watch to prevent the spread of the temptation to exploit foreign labourers, denying them the same rights enjoyed by nationals, rights that are to be guaranteed to all without discrimination. Regulating immigration according to criteria of equity and balance [643] is one of the indispensable conditions for ensuring that immigrants are integrated into society with the guarantees required by recognition of their human dignity. Immigrants are to be received as persons and helped, together with their families, to become a part of societal life.[644] In this context, the right of reuniting families should be respected and promoted.[645] At the same time, conditions that foster increased work opportunities in people’s place of origin are to be promoted as much as possible.[646]

One more quote. This time from our current Pontiff:

Such an humanitarian emergency demands as its first measure the urgent protection and properly taking in of the children. (Pope Francis, from a Mexico-Holy See Colloquium on Migration and Development held earlier this month)

I want to stress that this teaching of taking care of immigrants finds its guidance at the heart of the Catholic Church. I also want to give just a snapshot at the immigration issue before touching on the problem we face with the children now crossing our borders.

At my two parishes of St. Augustine and St. Andrew’s in Yell County, Arkansas, I work primarily with the immigrant population. 80% of the faithful and 99% of my work is with the Hispanics. I have many families from Latin America, and I’ve been to visit their family homes, namely Guerrero, Mexico. They live in “ranchitos”, small towns where you are blessed if you do not have a dirt floor. They may or may not be able to find work and have practically no way of getting out of this cycle of poverty. They will be lucky to make it through third grade before they will start working full time to help the family make ends meet. Their desire to come to the United States is truly for a better life where they can have the opportunity to work, to raise their family in safety, and to give their children the chance to dream and to make their dreams come true. These are things we take for granted. Is it necessarily our fault that these conditions exist in the Latin America? No.

And we must oblige governments to work together to create better social conditions for these poorer nations. To believe that they come with Marxist ideas of overloading the welfare state by not working is simply preposterous. So many of my faithful Catholics stand for 10 hours a day on concrete floors in chicken plants de-boning chicken until their they have cramps in the hands, swollen fingers, and wrist-related injuries. They are lucky to get a bathroom break and a 30-minute lunch break to eat their lunch that was not fully heated by the microwave because the the next person in line needs to start warming his plate. And they keep coming to work despite these conditions. Can you see yourself living in a small Mexican village destined to be a villager for life with no hope of leaving the town? Or to work in excruciating conditions in the United States? Are these not social issues of our time? Have we done everything we can to advance the lives of these people?

I know personally I have not. Let it begin with me.

Now, for the reason and timing of this article. The influx of so many young people from Central America is even a stronger case to help. Bishop Taylor has served on the USCCB’s Committee for Migration for the past four years. He has been studying the problems of immigration from Latin America. In Bishop Taylor’s statement, he explains:

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.

These children are suffering even worse conditions than those who are coming over for work and to better their lives. They are looking to simply live. The pope and at least Bishop Taylor are calling for protection and immediate aid to these children. Beyond being just an immigration issue, equal to giving asylum to those fleeing war-torn countries. In these countries the situation is parallel to places living under terrorism. Drug-trafficking and gangs have ruined these cities and states of Latin America. What can we do to begin changing the situation? It is too little to simply blame the governments of these nations. The governments of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador are failed. We have a greater chance of helping more people by, well, helping more people. And let it begin with me. We have been given so many opportunities and blessings in our country.

I recently had a chance to travel to New York and I stopped by the Statue of Liberty. There, Emma Lazarus’ famous poem “The New Colossus” brought me to tears:

“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

I am proud and grateful to still be in the country that is synonymous with  liberty. We are free, and we promise freedom to the world. “The Land of the Free.” And like most good things, it can only be kept if we give it away and share it. What a beautiful calling to be the refuge from the corrupted and polluted countries, to call other countries to a greater dignity of treating the human person. Let’s not forfeit our freedom by being pusillanimous and mean. What can I do today to begin? Bishop Taylor offers three points:

  • 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.

See more here.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

A priest of Little Rock, a fan of St. Philip Neri, Pope Benedict XVI, the New Evangelization and the Washington Nationals. Addicted to coffee and mexican food.

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