I'm in Washington, D.C., on a lobbying trip with the Loretto Community, planned six months ago. We identified seven issues, invited members to come along, wrote fact sheets and prayers, and, eight weeks ago, began praying and writing to Congress, one issue a week. We set the date as best we could, looking at our community calendar and our own lives. But privately, we all thought Congress might even have gone home. Surely we would slog away in July heat, saying the same-old, same-old to bored staff. We told ourselves that participating in the public political process was a good thing to do.
But days before we arrived, the crisis over refugee children on the border erupted.
They are refugees, not migrants, we tell Congress. They are fleeing the danger of death because of drug violence, gang violence, theft and destruction of family land, and hunger.
Why would a mother put her child in the hands of traffickers and drug dealers? We are asked this by the congressional staffers we meet. We say the mothers' hopes rest in the lives of their children and the risks at home are greater than the risks on the road.
Two of our contingent are members of Sagrada Familia, Guatemalan sister community to Loretto. Yolanda and Maruca bring stories of children who set out across the border, lawyers who sell children into prostitution, gangs that kill those who refuse to join or refuse themselves to rob and kill. It is surely providence that six months ago we invited Yolanda and Maruca to participate, thinking it would be good for them to learn more about our work. And they are learning. But we are learning so much more about their lives and their work.
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Loretto was founded in Kentucky 202 years ago; most of us experienced formation there and many retire there. I cast my first vote there when I was an 18-year-old novice because Kentucky allowed 18-year-olds to vote. (I voted for John F. Kennedy.) Because of our Kentucky roots, we stopped in Rand Paul's senatorial office and his immigration aide kindly met with us for 40 minutes, explaining that he could not report the senator's position because the situation was new and fluid. Another small grace that we should be here now.
Our lobbying group has taken a position on the $3.7 billion request by President Barack Obama: We oppose the aid to Homeland Security because we don't support building any more detention centers and we believe the border is secure; after all, these children are turning themselves in to the first security force they see. They are refugees asking for asylum, not migrants attempting to slip into the country unnoticed.
We support aid ($64 million) to the judiciary system. We need more immigration judges and lawyers.
Most of all, we support additional money ($1.8 billion) to Health and Human Services for food, health care, psychological counseling, family reunification, education, clothing -- the list goes on.
Finally, of course, we fear that the children will be sent back. If they are, some will be killed very soon for their new tennis shoes or perhaps a flashlight or radio some kindly person gave them. All of them will be thrust back into the violence they are fleeing.
The point of the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act passed in 2008 was exactly to protect children from sexual violence, trafficking and slavery. If the children are sent back, we know their names, and our government must demand that their own nations protect them. To this end, a package of aid would be essential. It should include programs that address the root causes of the violence: the war on drugs, unfair trade, the militarization of society.
However, that's down the road. At issue right now is how we should deal with a true refugee crisis, children at our border. What would Jesus do?