In Nogales, Arizona, Jesuit Father Sean Carroll, executive director of the Kino Border Initiative, visited a warehouse-like Border Patrol detention center last month where hundreds of migrant children were being processed.
"These are children. We need to tend to their needs first. I think we can address questions about the flow of these children while taking care of the ones who are coming and making sure they are safe," Father Carroll told Aleteia.
Father Carroll said he also attended the National Migration Conference in Washington D.C. The conference, held every five years, is sponsored by the USCCB’s Migration and Refugee Services, the Catholic Legal Network, Inc., and Catholic Charities USA. Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, auxiliary bishop of Seattle and chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Migration, said July 7 that the Catholic community “will continue to push” lawmakers to pass immigration reform legislation this year, regardless of political commentary that Congress is unlikely to act.
“Our mission as Church is to defend the rights of the migrant, no matter what the political situation or polls may dictate,” Bishop Elizondo said.
Father Carroll said he and representatives from other faith-based organizations have urged the Obama administration to resist pressure to immediately deport the young Central American migrants.
"We’re concerned that, first of all, children who have legitimate claims as refugees won’t come to light because there won’t be adequate due process," Father Carroll said. "And second, we fear they will be deported back to dangerous situations."
Michelle Mendez, a senior managing attorney for Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of Washington, told Aleteia that the surge in immigration is predominantly due to violence being perpetuated by drug cartels and violent street gangs such as MS-13 and 18th Street. She said one of her clients had a parent murdered "in a very terrible way."
"It’s a humanitarian crisis, and nobody is advocating for these kids. It’s a very difficult situation for these families," Mendez said, adding that her agency helps provide legal representation to the minors in immigration court.
"At any one time, we’re representing, in-house, 15 kids," Mendez said. "At the same time, we’re also representing another five to 10 kids through our pro-bono program."
During the previous four years, Mendez said her agency had been seeing a lot of young undocumented migrants who were teenagers.
"They tended to be older because they could make the voyage north through Mexico," Mendez said. "Now, it’s really frightening. We’re seeing kids under 10, and a lot more little girls who are susceptible to assault and abuse.
"It’s not uncommon to have a girl, maybe 13 or 14, who has been the victim of sexual assault by gang members back home. The sexual assault prompts her to come to the United States, and then through that journey, she might get raped twice. Then when she’s here, we need a ton of caseworkers to help this little girl overcome the trauma she’s been through,” Mendez added.
Meanwhile, in Texas, Catholic Charities of Dallas has been providing legal orientation to educate the young migrants’ custodians of their responsibilities to ensure the children appear at their immigration court proceedings, as well as their obligation to protect the children from mistreatment, exploitation and trafficking. Catholic Charities of Dallas has also been looking for attorneys, preferably those who speak Spanish, to help represent the children in the immigration courts.
In a press conference this month where the bishops of North Texas called for volunteers to assist the young migrants, Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas framed the issue as a humanitarian matter, and less about immigration politics, according to published reports.
"As a Church, we are concerned for the children," Bishop Farrell said. "This is a humanitarian crisis that will judge the character or morality of our nation."
Brian Fraga is a daily newspaper reporter who writes from Fall River, Massachusetts.