I was embarrassed for us as Americans to watch throngs of angry and venomous people yelling and screaming at the three buses bringing women and children who had arrived at our southern border to a safe haven in Murrieta, CA.
The jeers and taunts were the kind normally hurled at those convicted of heinous crimes, such as homicide and assault. But not at innocent children, and some frightened mothers.
Over many months approximately 52,000 unaccompanied children and youth have reached the border with Mexico. Most came from the three most difficult countries in our hemisphere: Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Desperate parents paid large sums of money to get "coyotes" to bring their children from Central America, through Mexico, and to the USA border. In these countries the only future for the children would be gangs, lack of work, meager education, no health care, and constant fear. Any parent would want better for their children.
Sadly, these children have become political pawns in the unending national debate over immigrants and immigration reform. The unwillingness of Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation is a scandal creating waves of emotional and physical devastation across the country, and especially, at the southern border. New levels of fear and fright have afflicted our immigrant brothers and sisters.
We desperately need the national debate on our broken immigration system, and the inadequate laws and regulations now on the books. But don't put helpless children in the middle of it, and don't blame the children for the larger mess.
We must accept these children with the compassion of disciples of Jesus Christ, and we must offer them whatever assistance we can. Many are seriously ill after having traveled long distances over weeks deprived of adequate food and drink. We need to accept them as they are, help them restore their health, and treat them with respect as human beings--as helpless children.
Then, we can look at their legal status to determine what would be in their best interests: uniting some with parents in this country, treating some as victims seeking political asylum, and possibly returning some back to their countries of origin.
Today Pope Francis marked the first anniversary of his trip to the island of Lampedusa in southern Italy to speak out in favor of desperate immigrants trying to reach Europe: "I encourage the Christian communities and all people of good will to continue to reach out and lend a helping hand to all those who are in need, without counting the cost, without fear, with tenderness and understanding. At the same time, I hope that the competent institutions .... might be most courageous and generous in refugee relief."
Great advice for all of us as disciples of Jesus and as Americans.