Last week — on World Refugee Day, in fact — the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released a statement that should shock and alarm members of government.
Bishop Esebio Elizondo, auxiliary bishop of Seattle and chairman of the bishop’s Committee on Migration, called upon the U.S. government to do more to assist both Syrian refugees and children who are trying to cross the U.S.-Mexican border by themselves.
Earlier in the week, both the Associated Press and CNN produced news stories about these two groups of people, stories containing numbers that were staggering:
The AP noted that for the first time since the World War II era, the number of people forced from their homes by conflict worldwide has risen past 50 million.
In the U.S., the administration of President Barack Obama released a statement that said that by June 2, the number of children trying to cross the U.S.-Mexican border since last Oct. 1 had reached more than 52,000. That number represented a 92 percent increase over the same period a year ago.
Any way you look at it, those two numbers represent human disasters.
In the Middle East, Syrians continue to be bombed out of their homes while in Iraq, a new conflict between Sunnis and Shiites and perhaps even the Kurds in Iraq seems all but guaranteed. Iraq and Syria, by any measure, are a mess and there’s lots of blame to go around there.
But in the U.S., at least, there are people of good will — such as Bishop Elizondo and our own Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz — who are calling on the U.S. government to do something about the children who appear desperate to get into this country.
“These children are indeed fleeing for their lives and must be looked at through a protection lens, not through an enforcement lens,” said Bishop Elizondo. “We must not send them back if they have valid protection claims. It would be akin to sending them back into a burning house.”
In many, if not most cases, the children in Mexico are fleeing the drug wars that have left part of that nation hotter than Satan’s sunburn. And yet, as Bishop Elizondo points out, the administration has officially resettled a total of only 42 refugees this year. Not 42 hundred or 42 thousand. Just 42.
Talk about bailing the ocean with a thimble. To be fair, President Obama has asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to deal with the influx of unaccompanied youth, which he called an “urgent humanitarian situation” that should be considered a crisis. He told FEMA to provide shelter, medical care and transportation, so perhaps that situation will improve somewhat.
Archbishop Kurtz, during the spring meeting of the U.S. bishops in New Orleans, once again called upon Congress to reform our nation’s immigration system.
“The time to act is now,” said the archbishop, who is president of the U.S. bishops’ conference. According to a statement from the bishops’ communications office, Archbishop Kurtz cited “the urgency of the issue for immigrants and their families.”
“As pastors, we see the human consequences of this broken system each day in our parishes and social service programs, as families are separated, migrant workers are exploited, and our fellow human beings risk everything to find a better life for themselves and the ones they love,” he said. “Our nation should no longer tolerate an unjust system.”
But Congress simply refuses to care.
The U.S. Senate passed a version of immigration reform legislation about a year ago, but the U.S. House of Representatives hasn’t considered the legislation and simply isn’t likely to do so in the near future.
One reason is the recent defeat of conservative Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House Majority Leader who shockingly lost a primary election to a tea party-supported candidate named Dave Brat.
The reason? Cantor supported some form of immigration reform and Brat beat him over the head with it in political ads and during personal appearances. The people of the 7th District of Virginia don’t care a whit about the 48,000 unaccompanied children who’ve crossed the border, nor do they care about the undocumented aliens who have been here for years — working at jobs Americans don’t seem to want, and paying taxes, too.
Immigration reform is a political issue, obviously. And according to CNN, Cantor’s loss means that “immigration reform is completely dead.” By the way, Brat’s surprising victory was helped in large part by ultra-conservative radio commentator Laura Ingraham, who was, CNN said, “harshly critical of Cantor’s position on immigration.”
But politics aside, all of these people involved in this issue should pause a minute, listen to the bishops and Pope Francis, and realize that we’re dealing with a continuing, growing human crisis. It’s a crisis in the Middle East; it’s a crisis along the U.S. border with Mexico.
It’s a crisis that could be helped if people would simply apply the teachings of Jesus and “love one another.”
That, apparently, is a message the decision makers don’t want to hear.