Photo: ‘Unaccompanied minors’ sleep in a holding cell at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facility in Brownsville, Texas, in June. (CNS photo/Eric Gay, pool via Reuters)
This is the first article in a three-part series about the important issues surrounding the undocumented children entering our country through the southern border of the United States and the need for comprehensive immigration reform. The second article will look at the work of Long Islanders regarding this issue, including Catholic Charities Immigration Services and others. The final article will focus on how Catholic Social Teaching calls us to active advocacy and engagement when it comes to safe, fair and just comprehensive immigration reform.
By Father John Sureau and Jay T. Korth
Recently Bishop Murphy wrote, “all Catholics are called to be one in extending the hand of friendship to all our neighbors, be they here for generations or only recently arrived. In turn, just as we are responsible for the common good, we rightly can ask our neighbors to live by and share those values and participate in our towns and villages, exercising the same sense of participation in the community for the good of each person and the common good of all.”
In discussing the specific issue of undocumented children coming to the United States through the Southern border and the larger issue of comprehensive immigration reform, we must recognize the need for each one us to extend “the hand of friendship” while also calling on others, specifically the federal, state and local governments to do their part to ensure the common good.
Welcoming the stranger is not an easy or simple task. Migrants, like all people, have skills and dreams but also wounds and needs. Often, the end of a long and difficult journey may be uncertainty. Anxiety accompanies any crossing of borders and cultures. This can be as true for those already settled and blessed with comfortable surroundings as it is for the seeker of sanctuary.
Immigration, like so many public policy issues, raises legitimate concerns about safety, security, economics, and social impacts. Likewise, it is no surprise that established communities may exhibit some reticence toward newcomers, some fear of the unknown. At the same time, issues like this can also provide a breeding ground for some of the hate and discrimination about which Bishop Murphy recently wrote. As Catholic men and women engaged in the public square, we cannot look away from these questions or challenges. There are legitimate and significant economic, political and social factors involved. These include but are not limited to the reasons for migration and how to address causes, security issues and the utilization of public resources, both at the national border and in local communities.
The topic of children on the border cannot be separated from the Church’s ongoing call for comprehensive immigration reform. The failure to act on this issue and to incorporate the United States Conference of Catholics Bishops’ six primary principles for immigration reform is part of the reason for this recent crisis. This will be discussed in more detail in the third article in this series.
While there is much history and context to the current situation of children crossing the border, we need to go back to the basics of our Catholic Social Teaching to better respond to this phenomenon. Despite the complexities, and regardless of age, immigration status, country of origin or reasons for migration to this country, the children who have come to the United States are human beings, deserving of respect and dignity. They are entitled to no less compassion and concern than the child in the womb, the elderly facing the challenges of aging or the young person seeking to find his or her way in the midst of the challenges of adolescence. Pope Benedict XVI reminded us, “We are all witnesses of the burden of suffering, the dislocation and the aspirations that accompany the flow of migrants. The phenomenon, as everyone knows, is difficult to manage … every migrant is a human person who, as such, possesses fundamental, inalienable rights that must be respected by everyone and in every circumstance” (Caritas in Veritate 62).
This crisis impacts local communities and parishes of our diocese on a number of levels (more on this in second article of the series). Yet the current situation encompasses much more than the obvious legal, fiscal and practical concerns. This crisis is not only about the lonely, those trafficked, abused or escaping violence, it is a crisis of the soul, and thus a challenge to our empathy and shared humanity.
Father John Sureau is the Associate Pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help R.C. Church in Lindenhurst and is the chair of the Diocesan Public Policy Advisory Committee. Jay T. Korth is the Director of Housing and Legal Affairs at Catholic Charities and a member of the Diocesan Public Policy Advisory Committee.