US bishop urges care for thousands of illegal child migrants

An American bishop has called for child-friendly shelters plus pastoral care and case managers for the thousands of children flooding across the Mexican border.

Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, Texas, told the House Judiciary Committee on June 25 that violence in their homelands is the root cause of so many children immigrating illegally.

Bishop Seitz said authorities must let religious groups and individuals minister to these children once they have arrived at the border patrol stations and shelters.

He said various requests to do so have been denied.

The bishop also called for efforts by Congress to address the root causes of such migrations.

He said simply deporting the minors “is akin to sending these children back into a burning building they just fled”.

The United States Department of Homeland Security has reported that 52,000 illegal child migrants that have been apprehended at the border this fiscal year, up from 15,700 last year.

Three quarters of them are from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

Bishop Seitz said gangs in these three countries are increasingly targeting children, attempting to recruit them into their networks and threatening violence against the children and their families if they refuse.

He said migration should be “orderly, safe, controlled and consistent with the common good”.

Bishop Seitz lamented the state of overcrowded detention facilities for the children, and emphasised the importance of due process and legal representation for migrant children.

In early June, leaked photos were published showing dozens of children crammed into bare rooms.

President Barack Obama spoke of an “urgent humanitarian situation”.

There are around 5000 immigration cases pending for every qualified judge, so dealing with individual children’s cases in the judicial system could take years.

Republican lawmakers and others believe the surge in child migration has come about because of the Obama administration’s lax enforcement of immigration laws.

But Bishop Seitz said the relatively stagnant numbers of migrants from other Central American countries shows violence, not policy, is the primary factor in the surge.

Rumours have spread like wildfire in some Central American nations that US laws have been relaxed.

The Obama administration blames unscrupulous people-smugglers trying to drum up business for starting the rumours.

The White House has promised more help to Central American countries and to appoint more immigration judges.


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