Archbishop: Government frustrates pastoral care for child migrants

Crowds turned up for a town hall meeting in Los Angeles at which Archbishop Jose Gomez spoke on immigration reform, Jan. 14, 2014. Courtesy of Victor Aleman/vida-nueva.com.

U.S. authorities are working poorly with Catholic efforts to provide pastoral care to underage immigrants detained near Los Angeles, the city's archbishop, Jose Gomez, wrote on Thursday.

“Our Church has been trying to respond to this situation in a spirit of cooperation and generosity,” Archbishop Gomez said in his July 10 column at The Tidings.

“So far, it has been frustrating trying to find ways to work with the authorities to provide pastoral care for these children. But we are continuing to try.”

Archbishop Gomez said that there are “several hundred” undocumented teenagers, primarily from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, at the naval base in the city of Port Hueneme.

“We need to give them guidance and warmth and a sense of welcome. No matter what, we need to remember these are innocent children who are lonely and frightened and far from home, caught up in circumstances they did not create and they cannot control.”

U.S. authorities have apprehended over 52,000 unaccompanied minors in the U.S. this year. The number of unaccompanied minors has doubled annually since 2011.

Many are fleeing violence in Central America and Mexico, while others are seeking to join parents or other relatives already in the U.S. Some are encouraged by rumors of more lenient treatment for children.

The surge of unaccompanied minors has added more fuel to the fiery immigration debate in the U.S. Varieties of protesters have assembled outside detention centers to support or oppose the immigrants, or the U.S. government’s response to immigration.

On July 7 White House spokesman Josh Earnest said it is “unlikely” that most minors will qualify for humanitarian relief. Without a legal basis to remain in the U.S., they “will be returned.”

However, Archbishop Gomez urged care for the young migrants.

“No matter how they got here, no matter how frustrated we are with our government, we can’t forget that these are children of God who are also just kids.”

“No different than our sons and daughters, our nieces and nephews and cousins.

The archbishop stressed the need to protect children, noting the danger of human trafficking.

“We all need to work together – government agencies and faith communities – for the good of these children. We cannot turn our heads and look the other way,” he said.

The California bishops issued a statement July 9 noting that the influx of migrants are fleeing violence and destitution, and saying the situation "transcends politics; it is truly a humanitarian crisis that calls all of us, Catholics and others of good will, to respond with compassion and with urgent action."

Saying that "many individuals have contacted our parishes and social service agencies asking how they can help," the bishops said this"reflects the best of the American spirit."

"The most affected dioceses will be asking parishioners and others for donations of time and money. We ask you to respond to this call. In this critical moment, Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan reminds us of what we are called to do."

The bishops also encouraged "opposition to the 'fast track authority' requested by the Administration that could send children back to the violence they attempted to flee without a proper hearing -- and in violation of their rights."

"We recognize the passion surrounding this issue. We call on all Californians of good will to express themselves with civility and respect, and to refrain from violence," the bishop stated. "May the heart of Christ guide the people of California to a just and compassionate response for these huddled masses of children gathered at our door."

In his column, Archbishop Gomez cited Pope Francis’ recent letter to Archbishop Francesco Montenegro of Agrigento marking the anniversary of the Pope’s July 8, 2013 visit to Lampedusa, a small Italian island that has become a way station for migrants seeking to enter Europe from North Africa.

Pope Francis in his letter encouraged Christians and all people of good will “to reach out and lend a helping hand to all those who are in need.”

The Pope said Christians must meet the challenge of immigration “not with the logic of indifference but with the logic of hospitality and sharing in order to protect and promote the dignity and centrality of every human being.”

Archbishop Gomez encouraged Catholics to pray “that we all might find the courage to care” and to pray for “greater tenderness and understanding for our immigrant families and children, and especially for the undocumented young people have come to our country in recent months.”


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