News about children at the border – what’s happening to them, what politicians believe or say about them, where they are going, what will happen to them — continues and the facts are becoming more sensationalized as politicians seek to push their partisan agendas. No single person, group or party has an answer to the growing problem; however, one article this week in particular really made me think. Eusebio Elizondo, auxiliary bishop of Seattle and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, wrote an article for “The Washington Post” entitled “How we treat vulnerable children on the border shows the world America’s values.” In it he offers several suggestions which I believe are helpful. In the short-term, he suggests providing the resources that are needed so that immigration hearings can occur within two to three weeks, not two to three months. As a long-term remedy, we need to fix the root of the problem — why children are fleeing their homes. This involves policies that protect children in their home countries including anti-violence initiatives, enforcement of laws regarding international drug dealing, humane reintegration programs, and investments in youth such as education and job training.
Elizondo’s article is filled with some of the most pragmatic advice I have heard in response to this crisis. He writes, “Instead of sending an army to the border, we should be sending an army of child welfare and mental health experts.” In some places, such as Chicago, this is happening through a network of faith-based groups that are working to provide pastoral counseling and faith-based interventions for these children. This sort of commitment to compassion for the stranger and the alien is central to Jewish, Christian and Muslim religious teaching.
The closing quote of the article really struck me: “If we sacrifice these children for political expediency, we may end up sacrificing our soul.” This is a crisis of moral urgency that will have long-reaching consequences for the lives of thousands of children and their families, but also for our country. In the kingdom of God, Jesus says many who are first will be last and the last will be first. The world will judge how we treat our children, whether they were born in this country or here. Let us pray that our nation’s leaders will choose compassion over expediency.