Immigrant Children: Refugees from Failed States

Fr. James Melnick

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.

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24 thoughts on “Immigrant Children: Refugees from Failed States”

  1. The author of this article may be the most well intentioned person on this earth. However, he is lost in a fantasy that has no relevance to reality. He doesn’t even understand the issues and consequences well enough to give an informed opinion. It is hard for me to believe the editor of Catholic Stand would even allow such a flimsy article to be published.

    First, The author apparently doesn’t realize that this country has almost 100 million citizens who are not working, many unemployed and many who have dropped out of the job market. the Labor Participation rate is 62.9% as of July 2014 ( ). This is a 36-year low. Where does the American worker fit into your model? Does the American worker deserve the benefit of a job in a country that he has supported for his working career or, do illegal aliens deserve employment, people who have broken the laws of this country and are helping themselves to the public tax revenue?

    Second, the Catholic Charities are accepting tax revenues from the Federal Government to pay for the catastrophe engineered by the Obama opposition to the will of the American Taxpaying Public. Hence, it is not charity. The American people by a large margin are furious with what this Administration is doing because they see through the corruption of this horrific episode. Money that is not freely given is not Charity, it’s theft. I will put a point this to you Friar: Money is not only a commodity, it represents time and effort in a man’s life. Thus, if one receives money unjustly taken, one is not just taking what is a man’s, he is taking what God has given that man.

    Lastly, I’m sure you are aghast at the number of children and adults meeting their death as they try to traverse the Southern Border in the oppressive summer heat. Maybe you would like to see the results of hundreds of the migrants dying in the desert because of the views you support? This is were your ignorance becomes inhuman. ( ).

    The author might be well intentioned but, to me it looks like selfishness. This country does not belong to Catholic Charities, Barack Obama, The Chamber of Commerce or The Business Round Table, or the Pope. It belongs to the American People. And We have a right to know and regulate who comes into this country and what their business is here. If anyone have a problem with this then they can petition to change the immigration laws as they have been duly voted on by Congress and signed into law. This article is arguing for anarchy, and anarchy in synonymous with selfishness.

  2. Anabelle Hazard

    Fr. James, thank you! I worked as an immigration attorney and the heartbreaking testimonies I’ve documented is just as you described. CCC 1867 reminds us that there are sins that cry to heaven…the cry of the foreigner, widow and orphan.

  3. How many children are killed by abortion every year?
    Once these children are here, then their entire families will be allowed to join them. They will give the Democrats a permanent majority, and soon after free, on demand, without restriction abortions will be the law of the land.
    How many children from broken states are we talking about? How many millions of increased abortions will we be talking about?

  4. Pingback: Catholic Bishops Say Amnesty for Illegal Immigrant Children Is 'Pro-Life' - Exploring the News

  5. Pingback: Catholic Bishops Say Amnesty for Illegal Immigrant Children Is 'Pro-Life' | Political Punch

  6. While I feel for their suffering, what about the Christians of Iraq and Syria? How does one choose and at what point do we say “No More”? Also, without secure borders, how do we know that terrorists aren’t coming through? And finally, what will happen to those who now have the freedom to work because of DACA – the backlash could endanger them. I am sorry but they should not have come, especially not unaccompanied. We do not take good care of children in Foster Care as it is, and now this?

  7. Father James this is extremely well stated, and an excellent article. Thank you for exhorting us to examine ourselves, to pray, and to take action. I’m willing to get my wallet out but there is so much more we can do. You’re right we have been so blessed, we don’t need to be afraid that somehow these children will take our prosperity away! I wonder what would happen if everyone gave just a few dollars? Let us also support the churches there. What if we went there for a couple weeks and served meals? Is there something else we can give?


  9. When using the phrase “failed state”, bear in mind that all states eventually fail. Poland has disappeared from the map. France has “failed” with the French Revolution, the defeat of Napoleon, and the defeat to and partition by Nazi Germany (at least). Israel disappeared as a state for 1878 years. Poland, France, and Israel bounced back, though, because the nation continued to exist even when the state failed.

    One day our state will fail, too. It looks like this may happen much sooner than any of us would like. What will become of us then? Will we bounce back? Are we in fact a real nation — are we like a real household, or more like strangers that happen to all be staying in the same hotel?

  10. I read USCCB testimony to Congress on this. The Bishop spokesman issued to Congress exact millions of dollars that he wanted spent here on this project and there on that project. Wrong approach. The Bishops sounded in that hearing like they are in charge of the US government when in fact they cost Catholics 2 billion dollars in legal fees etc. from not protecting sexually the children they were overseeing from 1950 to 2000. And Congress knows that and needs to hear less of the imperative mood from a group who failed children that recently and who are disgraced in security matters already.
    A lady near me ordered deck washing one day…her children were at school and her husband was at work. The deck washing company sent a Central American who began to power wash the deck but then he suddenly decided to rape the mother of two who fought him but he then killed her. He then taunted her friends and relatives using her cell phone which allowed the police to capture the man quickly.

    Have the Bishops demanded with equal verbosity that the US absolutely vet each older male from Central America where the UN gives a murder rate of 31.1 per 100,000? All of East Asia has a murder rate of 1.1 per 100,000. Yes…baptised Central Americans are murdering thirty times the rate of largely unbaptised East Asia. So. Are Catholic Bishops demanding that each male is strenuously vetted?

  11. Take first care of all our homeless citizens !!! Not everyone is a lazy bum, because that’s how they all too often are looked down upon. But of coure that wouldn’t reach the newspapers or TV stations. My family did so much for homeless people whoever we were and saw them. Nobody knew about it. We heard all too often soul wrenching stories. If there are dictators in Central/South America well invade those countries like was done in Iraq, Afganisthan and multiple more, instead of opening the gates of this country unless you want to destroy the USA.
    Lord help us to get rid of the Godless dictators in our own country.

  12. This country is a victim of its own generosity. We will never ever get out of debt if we keep spending money we don’t have and if we are afraid to require a greater contribution from those who have so much money they don’t even know what to do with it.

    We can’t do what Rick Perry does, calling out the National Guard to keep people who are desperate from coming over the border. That is just not acceptable. Unfortunately, we have the most dysfunctional government ever. There is no way Congress will ever agree on a workable solution for this problem, assuming one even exists.

    1. Why the hell can’t we keep these invaders’s MORE than acceptable, this is MY country, not theirs

    2. It’s not the best solution but the ultra rich are the most able to help reduce our debt. Asking for a greater contribution from those most able to provide it is some kind of blasphemy or heresy to them.

    3. It’ s socialists like you who are the heretics. Remember the 10th commandment? Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods?

    4. I am just saying that we need to pay off the national debt and that requires sacrifices by everyone. Those who can most afford it should contribute the most.

  13. Agreed…would it not be our duty to take in “an unaccompanied minor” fleeing persecution and fleeing death into our homes…one at a time. You do not house these children in barracks by the thousands, then process them like cattle and satisfy our human collective conscience by throwing a few prayers and dollars at the problem. Take one into your home….is not that the Gospel message? Or can we fabricate a thousand reason why personally sheltering the homeless, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked is impracticable for our myriad of reasons. Either you believe or you do not….

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