Border crisis declarations mask misery of immigrants

Friday, April 12, 2019 - Updated: 1:33 pm

By Mark Pattison Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — An estimated 100,000 apprehensions of immigrants by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents at the U.S.-Mexico border in March is the highest figure in one month in a decade.

But there is more than just those raw numbers, or President Donald Trump’s action to cut $500 million in aid to three Central American countries, or his since-revoked threat to close the border with Mexico.

What’s missing, many say, is the human element of immigration.

“They are mothers and fathers just like us and they are trying to do the best they can for their children and their families, just as we would,” Joan Rosenhauer, head of Jesuit Refugee Service, told Catholic News Service April 4 — the organization’s “lobby day” during which they talked to 41 members of Congress and their staff.

“People don’t leave their homes, their families, everything they’ve ever known, for fun,” Rosenhauer said. “People are invested in their situations and try to keep their children from harm, which is what people in the U.S. would do.”

She added, “We can’t back away from all this. We can’t step down from serving millions and millions of children who have been traumatized — facing trauma and PTSD. What will their futures be like if we turn our backs on them now?”

JRS works in Latin America with families fleeing violence, gangs and poverty. Some lawmakers are “very sympathetic and understand this,” Rosenhauer said, “and others are not so much.”

“It’s not a good idea to cut off aid,” said William Canny, executive director of the U.S. bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services office. Citing aid to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras for job training, agriculture and other initiatives, “they are not things we want to cut off at this time,” he added.

Catholic teaching holds that “people have a right to migrate and the right to seek asylum. People also have a right to stay,” Canny said, adding, “We’d like them to stay. We’d like them to be able to stay where they are,” but if conditions are that bad where they live, offering “a bare human existence, then they have a right to migrate, for themselves and their children.”

Most of the aid in question doesn’t go directly to the governments themselves. Catholic Relief Services receives $38 million from the U.S. government for education and job programs in the three countries, according to Rick Jones, an El Salvador-based youth and migration policy adviser for CRS.

If the aid cutoff goes through, Jones told the Associated Press, “it will be sending the message, ‘Help is not on the way ... and you’re going to be left on your own,’” Jones said. “And basically people left on their own are going to be more desperate and more people are going to leave.”

Today, instead of single Mexican men crossing the border and hoping to evade capture, Isacson said, youths and families cross hoping to be caught so they can claim asylum.

On April 5, Trump called on Congress to “get rid of the whole asylum system.” More notably, those who claim asylum at the border have been forced to return to Mexico to wait for their hearing. “The backlog is so huge — 800,000 cases, 450 judges — people are being given hearing dates in 2022 or 2023,” Isacson said. “At some point, you have the right to work, legally, and in many cases it’s a happy story — for a few years.”

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