Arkansas bishop on border crisis: Migrants are entitled to protection

by Tom Gallagher

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Arkansas Bishop Anthony Taylor's July 25 statement is worth the read, as he has firsthand experience of what's happening in Central America.

He writes:

For the last four years I have served as a member of the Committee on Migration of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. In that capacity I visited El Salvador two months ago as part of a Regional Consultation on Migration looking into the plight of refugees fleeing violence and extreme poverty in Central America. 

My role was to assess the situation of our brothers and sisters who are forced to leave their homes by tragic circumstances beyond their control. The cause is the anarchy and violence in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras because they are failed states. It is important to recognize that many of the women and children -- many of them unaccompanied -- who have recently come to the United States are genuine refugees with well-founded fear of death if they refuse to join the criminal gangs that control their neighborhoods, and most have already suffered some form of violence or severe intimidation prior to fleeing northward. Indeed, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has found that 58 percent of these women and children could qualify for international protection as refugees and thus are not necessarily breaking the law. Like any refugees fleeing persecution, they are entitled to legal protections under U.S. law and international law.

We can assist these women and children in their time of need. Many of these refugees already have relatives in the United States with whom they can be placed, but if necessary we could accommodate quite a few of them in our Catholic parishes if federal guidelines would just let us. And while it is true that some of these 60,000 are not refugees in the strictest sense of the term, all of them come from desperate circumstances. Pope Francis has called for the care and protection of these children. In a recent letter he wrote: "Such a humanitarian emergency demands as its first measure the urgent protection and properly taking in of the children."

Why can't the governments in Central America solve their own problems? We have to recognize that El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala are failed states and it is simply unrealistic to expect them to solve this problem on their own.

Taylor goes on to state that this new influx of immigrants will test the moral character of our nation.

Unfortunately, Taylor does not call out by name the Catholic House Republicans, such as House Speaker John Boehner and Rep. Paul Ryan, who simply will not work in collaboration with President Barack Obama and the Democrats on comprehensive immigration reform. It is precisely these Catholic legislators and others who are preventing immediate and comprehensive immigration reform from helping this border crisis that 60,000 to 70,000 children and the 11 million immigrants currently living in the shadows.

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