The following unsigned editorial titled appeared in the July 12 issue of the Arkansas Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Little Rock, Arkansas.
A wave of children is coming alone into California, Arizona and Texas from Central America, and the United States needs to find the right solution to handle this difficult situation. This is a humanitarian crisis all Americans should be concerned about.
It is estimated that 90,000 children from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras as well as Mexico will have entered the country without an adult this fiscal year. Many families in Central America erroneously believe that various U.S. policies would allow their children to stay legally in this country. They pay smugglers thousands of dollars to bring their children over the border.
Where is the best place for these children? Of course, it is with their parents. But at the same time, we need to look at the deeper issue of why parents would risk so much for their young children.
President Barack Obama has wanted to get immigration reform through Congress and that is very unlikely to happen now. Some are blaming the president for this mess, but that is just a politically expedient answer, not one based on the facts.
For some real answers it is helpful to understand what the U.S. bishops found when they sent a delegation to Mexico and Central America more than eight months ago.
Here are the facts:
— The number of unaccompanied minors has been increasing since 2011.
— With more violence in Central America and the lack of jobs and education, parents are getting desperate to protect their children and believe they would be safer in the U.S. with other family members.
— Some parents are scared for their children’s lives. Criminal organizations are threatening them with extortion, kidnapping and forcible recruitment of their children into criminal activity. Children live in fear with the prospect of going to school and getting attacked by gang members.
According to the U.S. bishops, “In many instances gangs … require the payment of money (‘renta’) from families or businesses to ensure that they are ‘protected’ from violence.”
Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso, Texas, who was part of the U.S. bishops’ delegation in November 2013, told the House Judiciary Committee June 25, “In visiting with these children, I’ve witnessed the human consequences of the violence they have endured. They (violent gangs) act with impunity, threatening families. … Violence is the straw that stirs the drink.”
Beefing up Border Patrol and creating tougher immigration laws aren’t going to solve these issues in Central America. Drug smugglers will still prey on families to mortgage their houses to send their children north. Parents will still do whatever they can to prevent their children from being lured into gangs and drug trafficking.
We need to treat all children coming to our border with compassion and concern, and fund solutions for the root causes of this migration.
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