Refugee Children: Humanitarian Crisis

Sr. Rosemarie Abate, HVM, attended an interfaith vigil at Grace Lutheran Church in Vassar, MI, on July 31 concerning the plight of refugee children arriving in the U.S. from Central America.  Nearly 60,000 children from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras have presented themselves at the southwest U.S. border, fleeing uncontrolled violence and poverty in their home countries.  It’s hard to imagine the sheer desperation that drives families to such lengths … sending their children away, off into the unknown, feeling that whatever dangers they may encounter there are preferable to what they will surely encounter staying at home.

The children often travel all the way through Mexico entirely by themselves, separated from their parents, riding atop freight trains and subject to robbery, sexual abuse and danger of injury the entire trip.  The trains are known as  La Bestia (The Beast) and El Tren de la Muerte (The Train of Death) due to the number of fatalities and injuries suffered by migrants along the route.

Click here to see a documentary on the perilous journey they face.

Click here for a photo essay of real life scenes along the trip.

 A wide collection of faith-based voices urge acceptance and generosity toward migrants and refugees, especially children:

Pope Francis has issued a far-ranging call for the protection of unaccompanied migrant children, especially those arriving in the U.S..  “This humanitarian emergency requires, as a first urgent measure, the children be welcomed and protected.”

Saginaw Bishop ­­­­­­­­­­­­Joseph Cistone  says “These are young people, who are trying to escape violence where they are.  Our response should be one of love and compassion.  People of goodwill and people filled with faith need to see these children as what they are.  Our hearts go out to these young people.”

Archbishop of Los Angeles José H. Gomez saysNo matter how they got here, no matter how frustrated we are with our government, we can’t forget that these are children of God who are also just kids. No different than our sons and daughters, our nieces and nephews and cousins. We need to protect these children at our borders and keep them from falling into the hands of human traffickers. We need to give them guidance and warmth and a sense of welcome. No matter what, we need to remember these are innocent children who are lonely and frightened and far from home, caught up in circumstances they did not create and they cannot control.”  

The Bishops of the United Methodist Church in Texas issued a pastoral letter reminding that Jesus said “Let the children come unto me for to such belong the kingdom of heaven” and urging followers to offer compassion and care for these children while their long-term status is being resolved.  

The Catholic Legal Immigration Network  is one of the lead groups promoting the dignity and protecting the rights of immigrants in partnership with a dedicated network of Catholic and community legal immigration programs.  CLICK HERE to read their excellent tutorial on the Central American children refugee crisis.  Be sure to click on each bullet point to see more details on the topic being discussed.  Reach out to your elected representatives at the federal, State and local levels to support humane and generous treatment of refugee children.

The Jesuit Refugee Service and more than 300 faith-based organizations have urged President Barack Obama and Members of Congress to provide protection, care and legal counsel for the children.  An open letter to Members of Congress from leading human rights, development, and faith-based organizations calling on legislators to address the humanitarian crisis .  The letter advocates strengthening the humanitarian response in the U.S., legal counsel for all unaccompanied children, community-based alternatives to detention and adequate services for children, refugees and all groups under the care of the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement

Currently, the refugee children from Central America are held in overwhelmed and understaffed detention facilities along the U.S./Mexican border while they await legal hearings before U.S. immigration authorities as is required by U.S. law.  Conditions in these facilities are Spartan at best, as they were never intended for large numbers of residents and certainly not for families or children.

Vassar, MI,  is a local center of interest in this issue because the Pioneer Work and Learning Center located there, operated by Wolverine Human Services of Grosse Pointe Park, MI, may be used as temporary shelter and processing center for 60 children.  Wolverine has submitted a contract proposal to the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement through Chicago-based anti-poverty organization Heartland Alliance to house the minors. The federal office is reviewing the contract.  A decision on the Wolverine facility in Vassar is expected in September 2014.

The issue is not without controversy.  Protesters, some carrying assault rifles and “Don’t Tread on Me” flags, marched from the Vassar city hall to the Wolverine facility.  They carried signs saying “seal the border,” “it’s law – deport” and “no illegals”.  Once the group reached Pioneer Work and Learning Center’s gates, the group stopped in a turnaround and (according to newspaper reports) said a prayer for the government to make the right decision and sang “God Bless America.”