Pope Francis directly addressed the growing crisis surrounding unaccompanied children on the U.S. border this morning, speaking up on behalf of the young immigrants and calling on the international community to do more to care for their needs.
In a message sent to the Mexico-Holy See Colloquium on Migration and Development, the first Argentinian pope called for an immediate humanitarian response for the roughly 50,000 unaccompanied minors who have crossed the U.S. border this year.
“I would also like to draw attention to the tens of thousands of children who migrate alone, unaccompanied, to escape poverty and violence: This is a category of migrants from Central America and Mexico itself who cross the border with the United States under extreme conditions and in pursuit of a hope that in most cases turns out to be vain,” he said. “They are increasing day by day. This humanitarian emergency requires, as a first urgent measure, these children be welcomed and protected.”
Francis also noted that, in addition to a robust relief effort by those on the U.S. side of the border, the international community should also move to address the vicious cycles of violence and poverty that are spurring the children to flee their countries of origin.
“These measures, however, will not be sufficient, unless they are accompanied by policies that inform people about the dangers of such a journey and, above all, that promote development in their countries of origin,” he said. “Finally, this challenge demands the attention of the entire international community so that new forms of legal and secure migration may be adopted.”
Since ascending to the papacy last year, Pope Francis has made immigrant populations and their struggles a central focus of his ministry. His first official trip outside the Vatican was to Lampedusa, an island in the southern Mediterranean that harbors African migrants seeking passage to Europe. There he met with immigrants and later tweeted, “We pray for a heart which will embrace immigrants. God will judge us upon how we have treated the most needy.” On the World Day of Migrants and Refugees in September 2013, he condemned human trafficking, saying “Migrants and refugees are not pawns on the chessboard of humanity. They are children, women and men who leave or who are forced to leave their homes for various reasons, who share a legitimate desire for knowing and having, but above all for being more.” He also surprised 2,000 immigrant residents at the Dono di Maria shelter near the Vatican with Christmas gifts last year, offering them care packages and prepaid phone cards so they could contact their families over the holidays.
Pope Francis has also had personal encounters with America’s immigration issues. While leading mass the day before he was scheduled to meet with President Barack Obama in March, Francis was approached by a 10-year-old girl who pleaded with the pontiff to address the rise in deportations of immigrants under the Obama administration. Francis reportedly responded by blessing the girl, and promised to speak with the President about her concerns.
Catholic groups such as Catholic Charities, along with many other faith-based groups, are already playing an active role in the effort to provide care and shelter for unaccompanied immigrant children on the border. However, many are reportedly already overwhelmed by the sheer number of kids, and are urging the President and Congress to do more to help with the crisis. The pope, for his part, is considering a visit to the U.S.-Mexico border in 2015.