The Children at the Border: Advocating for Change

By: Roxane Ramos

The humanitarian crisis of thousands of undocumented and unaccompanied children at the border has prompted numerous responses from organizations throughout the country. Here, we print two letters—one from the Jesuit Conference and the other from the Sisters of Mercy. The letters outline the decades-long history of violence in Central America that has led to the atmosphere of danger and threat that exists today. And they provide disturbing facts about the reality of what children are facing in their countries of origin, and the urgent need for a comprehensive and compassionate response from policymakers in Washington.

The recipients of these letters—House Speaker John Boehner and President Obama—are both in positions to provide leadership and push for reform on the issue of immigration, and these letters urge them to do so. Speaker Boehner has refused to bring immigration legislation passed in the Senate to a House vote (Senate Bill 744: Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act), and now Congress has recessed for the August break. President Obama has overseen an era of increased criminalization of illegal immigration, and the number of undocumented migrants deported since he took office now exceeds 2 million (which includes both court-ordered removals and voluntary returns), more than under any previous administration. Please read on.

Letter to House Speaker Boehner from the Jesuit Conference, The Society of Jesus in the United States

July 29, 2014

Speaker John Boehner
1011 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Speaker Boehner,

I write to you as President of the Jesuit Conference of the United States, the organization that represents the Society of Jesus in the U.S., and I echo the message of our bishops and our Holy Father. I urge you to remember that amid the complications of policy and politics, we must be steadfast in our commitment to uphold the dignity of the human person and the sacredness of human life when considering policy solutions to address the increasing numbers of children fleeing harm in Central America.

Well before the 1989 assassination of six Jesuits, their housekeeper and her daughter by U.S.-trained Salvadoran military forces, the Jesuits in the United States were partnering with Jesuits and colleagues in Central America. Since that time, Jesuits in the U.S. have been committed to ensuring that U.S. policy does not exacerbate difficult realities facing poor, marginalized communities. Over the last several years, our office and Jesuit Refugee Service/USA have tracked with growing alarm the increase in forced displacement and targeted violence—perpetrated by gangs, organized crime and state actors—in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

This is not a new crisis, nor is it primarily at our border. Rather, it has been escalating over the last decade in the Northern Triangle. For example, 90 children are murdered or disappeared in Honduras every month; this is the equivalent of eight children being executed in your Congressional district every thirty days.

The impact of this crisis has fallen most heavily on women and girls. From 2005 to 2012 there was a 346% increase in murders of women and girls in Honduras. Meanwhile El Salvador has the highest rate of homicides against women and girls in the world, and Guatemala ranks third on the same chart. Is it any wonder that young girls are leaving the region in record numbers, with a 140% increase in girls 12 and younger arriving unaccompanied at our border from the Northern Triangle this fiscal year?

The Jesuits of Central America see this reality daily: the elementary school teacher murdered when he tried to prevent gangs from forcibly recruiting his students; the young girl pulled from her home, offered as a birthday present to a gang leader and then raped by 16 men; lay colleagues of Jesuits assassinated and harassed by the police. Further, these three countries have little infrastructure and few services to care for women and girls victimized by violence or sexual exploitation; less than 5% of female homicides end in a conviction. The collapse of civil society is evident in besieged schools, hollowed-out neighborhoods, and tortured, often dismembered bodies of children as young as two displayed in streets and ditches.

In this sobering context, I am reminded of Psalm 82, in which God asks the magistrates of the day “how long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked?” God then exhorts these political leaders to “give justice to the weak and fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked” (Psalm 82: 3-4).

While this message needs to be heard among leaders in the Northern Triangle, it also calls out to be heard by U.S. leaders dealing with this humanitarian crisis. In particular, I ask for your full and dedicated commitment to the following three policy issues:

TVPRA: A change to the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (TVPRA), which would result in children having a one-shot chance to disclose their persecution to a Customs and Border Protection agent or officer, especially when some of them have been victimized by armed men in uniform, is inhumane and an insult to American values. Mr. Speaker, I am appalled by the suggestion that the U.S. should respond by cutting off access to safety for these children.

Due process: To meet Psalm 82’s standard, I ask you to protect the due process rights of these vulnerable children. Rather than rolling back the TVPRA, we should continue to ensure that traumatized and terrorized children have the time and opportunity they need to feel safe enough to share their experience. To echo the analysis of the National Association of Immigration Judges, this process must proceed at the speed of a child’s trust, not at the speed of political convenience. These children deserve an individualized process, a child welfare expert to evaluate their claim, and a legal advocate to help them navigate our complex judicial system.

Root causes: We cannot simply ignore this aspect of the problem. In order to address this crisis at its source, the United States must listen to people, among them the Jesuits in Central America, who intimately understand how we arrived at this tragic juncture. They, along with many others, have been calling on their governments to address impunity and corruption, improve judicial systems, expand educational access, strengthen—and in some cases build from scratch—child welfare services in the region, and support adequate return and reintegration programs to ensure that children who can safely remain in their home countries are able to do so. Our investments need to go here, not to corrupt or abusive security forces who themselves are often criminal.

I ask you, as a leader, a parent, and a Catholic, to uphold an American tradition of which we are all proud. We must welcome the refugee, the victim of trafficking, the child who has been abused or abandoned. Let us follow in the footsteps of Jesus when he said “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14).

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,
Very Reverend Thomas H. Smolich, S.J. President, Jesuit Conference USA

 

The unaccompanied migrant children entering the U.S. have fled some of the most violent countries in the world for a chance at a safer, better life. Courtesy of Creative Commons.

The unaccompanied migrant children entering the U.S. have fled some of the most violent countries in the world for a chance at a safer, better life.
Courtesy of Creative Commons.

 

Letter to President Obama from the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas

July 4, 2014

President Barack Obama
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

The Sisters of Mercy have worked tirelessly with your Administration to build support for immigration reform, and as the leadership team for our Institute, we appreciate your willingness to take executive action later this summer. But we are extremely troubled by your Administration’s response to the unprecedented numbers of women and children fleeing violence in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Over the last four years the number of unaccompanied minors apprehended by the U.S. Border Patrol has skyrocketed by 700% for Guatemalans, 930% for El Salvadorians and 1300% for Hondurans. The vulnerable populations from these Northern Triangle countries are not only seeking refuge in the United States; the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) reports that asylum applications are up 712% since 2008 in Belize, Nicaragua, Panama, Costa Rica and Mexico. What we are experiencing is a regional humanitarian crisis. The questions we need to be asking ourselves are: what has contributed to this crisis, how might your Administration’s proposals actually further deepen the crisis, and what sustainable solutions can be put in place to address the root causes driving migration?

We have sisters in 12 countries, including Guatemala and Honduras. Through our service in these countries, we have witnessed the extreme violence and poverty that women and children face in their communities. The Northern Triangle countries have some of the highest homicide rates, with Honduras now ranking number one in the world. It must be recognized that in the Northern Triangle, a parent’s decision to keep a child at home is more dangerous than risking the journey to another country.

The causes of this massive exodus are rooted in U.S. economic and foreign policies in Central America that clearly are not effective in responding to the underlying issues. In order to resolve this humanitarian crisis, Mr. President, your Administration must develop a new approach to the region while ensuring that the immediate needs of these refugees are fully met.

After 20 years of the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA) and 10 years of the Central American Free Trade Act (CAFTA), the evidence is clear that neo-liberal economic policies devastate weaker economies as workers are displaced, thus forcing many to migrate outside their countries to find work. In Mexico, due to NAFTA nearly 1.4 million corn farms went under as their markets were flooded with U.S. subsidized corn. Consequently, an estimated 600,000 undocumented immigrants risked the journey to the United States. Since CAFTA was enacted in 2006, migration from Central America experienced a similar upsurge. During the first year of CAFTA in El Salvador, 11,457 workers were displaced from their jobs and migration to the United States from El Salvador jumped from 507 per day to 740 per day. Currently, Mr. President, your Administration is withholding developmental aid to El Salvador due to a provision within CAFTA, thus advancing the interest of giant seed corporations, like Monsanto, over the food security needs of the El Salvadorian people. The U.S. needs a new approach to trade, one that values people, culture, and the right of countries’ sovereignty over corporate interest.

In terms of U.S. foreign policy, it would be disastrous, particularly in Honduras and Guatemala, to send more money to a militarized “war on drugs” or to security forces that are corrupt and have substantial allegations of human rights violations. The U.S. State Department cites significant human rights violations in Guatemala and Honduras that include both military and police units committing unlawful killing, kidnappings, assault, rape, extortion and corruption. Since 2008, your Administration has invested hundreds of millions into the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), with 64% of the funds for enforcement and counter-narcotics, and the situation in the region has only gotten worse. We reject the notion that additional resources for “community policing and law enforcement,” as stated in your letter to Congress, will strengthen citizen security in the region.

The escalation of violence and the stranglehold of narco-traffickers are largely bi-products of a failing economy and corrupt governments. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Honduras. In June of 2009, the Honduran military, which receives substantial training and support from the U.S., overthrew the democratically elected President because of his anti-poverty initiatives. After a brief suspension of aid, Mr. President, your Administration renewed funding and support for the post-coup Honduran government. The government your Administration currently supports in Honduras is implicated in killings and threats to human rights defenders, labor leaders, journalists, indigenous and peasant leaders who are defending the rights to their land. Impunity reigns and increasingly military police are being deployed throughout the country. Since the coup in 2009, the political instability in Honduras led to the homicide rate increasing from 60 to 93 per 100,000, making the country the most dangerous place to live outside of a war zone. In some cities, such as San Pedro Sula, the homicide rate is 180 per 100,000, 11 times the homicide rate of your home city of Chicago. Mr. President, your Administration holds some responsibility for the current state of Honduras. Rather than send more money for security forces involved in CARSI, these funds should be suspended until impunity is seriously addressed. Also in order to prevent a similar catastrophe, your Administration should immediately end the training of Latin American militaries at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC). The Cold War is over and we need to stop training and equipping foreign militaries that carry out coups and repress democratic freedoms in their countries.

It will take time for a new foreign policy approach in Central America to alleviate the root causes of this tragedy. Meanwhile, the U.S. needs to come to terms with the fact that more women and children will likely come to our borders. Mr. President, your Administration must uphold the high human rights standard that the U.S. demands of other countries. We are outraged by the announcement to renew the policy of family detention and efforts to expedite deportations of a vulnerable population back to life- threatening situations. A policy of deterrence will not dissuade people seeking refuge from untenable living situations but instead perpetuates their suffering once in the United States. As little as 5 years ago, the inexplicable treatment of families in the T. Don Hutto detention facilities was a national embarrassment. Thankfully, Mr. President, your Administration closed the facility, ending its legacy of inhumane treatment of women and children. There is no guarantee that this renewed effort to incarcerate mothers with their children will not have the same outcome, including children living in locked cells with only an open-air toilet accessible and guards’ threats of separating mothers from their children as a disciplinary tactic.

Instead of family detention, we call on you to strengthen alternatives to detention programs, which are more cost effective and humane. We are thankful for the collaboration between FEMA and ORR and the faith-based agencies. The Sisters of Mercy and many of our faith partners are working under the guidance of these groups to mobilize our communities to provide housing facilities and services.

The Sisters of Mercy of the Americas’ desire for another approach resonates with the teachings of Pope Francis. When addressing a plenary on the Pastoral Care of Migrants, the Pope asked “leaders and legislators and the entire international community above all to confront the reality of those who have been displaced by force, with effective projects and new approaches in order to protect their dignity, to improve the quality of their life and to face the challenges that are emerging from modern forms of persecution, oppression and slavery.” Our Sisters and co-workers will continue to respond to the needs of women and children in the Northern Triangle and the refugees that seek safe haven in the United States. We look forward to working with your Administration to find a new approach that will uphold the human dignity of this vulnerable population.

Sincerely,
Institute Leadership Team of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas

Their cheerful disposition belies a disturbing fact—children from Central America must traverse the length of Mexico (close to 2,000 miles), risking injury, among other dangers, as they jump on trains and ride atop the cars in the hope of reaching family members in the U.S. Courtesy of Repositorio Peninsula.

Their cheerful disposition belies a disturbing fact—children from Central America must traverse the length of Mexico (close to 2,000 miles), risking injury, among other dangers, as they jump on trains and ride atop the cars in the hope of reaching family members in the U.S.
Courtesy of Repositorio Peninsula.

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Children at the Border: Next Steps

By: Roxane Ramos

More than 57,000 unaccompanied migrant children have crossed the U.S.–Mexico border since October. The initial crisis for the U.S. government and border authorities was one of sheltering them and providing for their basic needs. Now that most of the children have been placed with relatives and await immigration hearings, the more ongoing challenge is addressing the reasons they have migrated, and determining who may have a right to stay in the U.S. based on refugee status or humanitarian grounds.

Most of the children are from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala and have traveled the length of Mexico, fleeing heightened gang violence and threats to their lives. The journey also exposes them to numerous dangers—kidnapping, robbery, extortion, and sex trafficking. U.S. law requires that they be interviewed within 48 hours of arrival, and with the case load hitting record numbers, accelerated screenings have been common. While this can be seen as a form of greater efficiency, speeding up the process comes with a human cost. The children have often experienced trauma and arrive disoriented and fearful. They do not trust the border patrol agents or their interviewers, and want only to reunite with their families. It is common for them to withhold information about crimes and abuses committed against them or that they have witnessed. Moreover, the screeners are not trained in the very specialized skill of interviewing children. And so the authorities fail to discover the very facts that would support a legitimate claim to asylum—abuse, abandonment, crimes and threats to their lives.

The children escaping the violence of their homelands have both a Consitutional and human right to have all claims to refugee status considered. Courtesy of Creative Commons.

The children escaping the violence of their homelands have both a Consitutional and human right to have all claims to refugee status considered.
Courtesy of Creative Commons.

In the immigration hearing process that eventually follows, minors are eligible for special juvenile status if they have been abused or abandoned by their family. They can seek asylum if they have suffered life-threatening persecution in their home countries. Or they can apply for visas as victims or witnesses of serious crimes. When these conditions are not captured in the initial screenings of the children, it becomes harder to prove the validity of these claims later on.

The most recent response of the Obama administration is a proposal to set up a processing center in Honduras, to screen children for refugee status or humanitarian parole (a temporary designation based on emergency humanitarian grounds) before they undertake the long and dangerous trek north. There are precedents for this sort of program, and instituting it recognizes the violence in Honduras as a humanitarian emergency, on par with those in Haiti and Vietnam. If successful, this pilot program would be replicated in Guatemala and El Salvador.

The proposal is still in the evaluation stages, with many questions to answer and vocal proponents on both sides. Would such a program be instituted via executive order or congressional approval? Would the United States or the United Nations (who handles such programs in other countries) oversee it? How much would the program cost? How many children could be admitted each year? And—a thorny legal point—does the definition of “refugee” apply to these children? (Refugees are legally defined as “people fleeing their country of origin based on fears of persecution by reason of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.” Immigration advocates assert that the “social group” category applies in these cases.)

These questions address the administrative, legal and economic aspects of the crisis, and all have sparked ongoing debate. But the underlying human questions are both deeper and more straightforward: How can we save these children who are in desperate need? Can we look away as they are threatened, exploited, sold, raped and murdered? Can we simply acknowledge the critical importance of reuniting children with their mothers and fathers in a safer place, where they can be loved and protected?

By all accounts, the hearings for the children who have entered the U.S. this past year will overwhelm our immigration court system. The fear is that many of these children will be fast-tracked right back to their countries which could put their lives in danger and not allow for adequate consideration of their individual circumstances and potential claims to asylum. It is critical that in the rush to be efficient or to make this problem “go away,” that these children receive what the Constitution grants everyone within the U.S.—a right to legal counsel, a fair hearing, and basic due process.

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Children at the Border: Call to Action

By: Roxane Ramos

If you wish to learn more about the causes behind the increased number of unaccompanied migrant children at the border, please view—and forward—this excellent video from Jesuit Refugee Service | USA. It consolidates a range of interrelated events and factors into an informative 4-minute history lesson: http://vimeo.com/102135765 You can also provide in-kind or monetary support to help immigrant families at the border through Catholic Community Services (CCS), highlighted in the recent KBI Alert from Executive Director Fr. Sean Carroll. For a wish list of needed items for migrant families in Tucson, see: http://tinyurl.com/qapgakv

To make a financial gift in support of the immigrant women and children served by CCS, you can do so here: http://www.ccs-soaz.org/Donations-to-Assist-Migrant-Women-and-Children.html

Your in-kind and financial donations to Catholic Community Services help the migrant families who await decisions about being able to stay in the United States. Photo by Aldo Michelis.

Your in-kind and financial donations to Catholic Community Services help the migrant families who await decisions about being able to stay in the United States.
Photo by Aldo Michelis.

Finally, to support the Kino Border Initiative in its ongoing work of offering humanitarian assistance at the border as well as educational programming and research and advocacy on behalf of migrants, go to our website: http://www.kinoborderinitiative.org/get-involved/donate/

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VIDEO ~ Root causes of the current flow of refugees from Central America.

Here’s a video from JRS/USA explaining the root causes of the current flow of refugees from Central America.

root causes of the current flow of refugees from Central America.

Causes of the current flow of refugees from Central America.

on Vimeo

on YouTube
Direct link is http://youtu.be/v_sa0-6uEiU

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Support KBI by shopping at Amazon.com!

Through this link,  http://smile.amazon.com/ch/26-3623357 people can shop at Amazon and 0.5% of their pruchase will be donated to the Kino Border Initiative.

Through this link, people can shop at Amazon and 0.5% of their pruchase will be donated to the Kino Border Initiative

Through this link, people can shop at Amazon and 0.5% of their pruchase will be donated to the Kino Border Initiative

 

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Analysis emphasizing the need to preserve the due process protections of children fleeing Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.

Please find attached a letter Tom Smolich [President Jesuit Conference USA] wrote to Speaker Boehner (and delivered via carbon copying the 40+ Alumni of Jesuit institutions serving in Congress) outlining the analysis of our Central American Jesuit partners and emphasizing the need to preserve the due process protections of children fleeing Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.

http://jesuits.org/Assets/Publications/File/Smolich%20Boehner%20final%20level.pdf

Please feel free to share.

Jesuit Refugee Service  also released a short video explaining the dire country conditions in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador as a tool that can be used to educate constituencies and galvanize grassroots action”  http://t.co/BsmNjqA1kM

Please promote these two resources!

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Recent Immigration News and the KBI

By: Roxane Ramos

Bishops on a Mission for Migrants

Following their April visit to the Arizona–Mexico border, members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration took to the road once more to draw attention to immigration issues and the struggles facing undocumented migrants. This time the destination was Capitol Hill. On May 29, six bishops celebrated Mass at St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Washington, D.C. In his homily, Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami called for greater understanding and a change in law, saying “[the migrants] only ask for the opportunity to become legal and have a chance for citizenship—to come out of the shadows where they live in fear of a knock on their door in the dead of night or an immigration raid to their work place.”

Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski celebrates Mass at St. Peter’s in Washington, D.C. Courtesy of USCCB Migration & Refugee Services.

Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski celebrates Mass at St. Peter’s in Washington, D.C.
Courtesy of USCCB Migration & Refugee Services.

In addition to a press conference, the bishops were also scheduled to visit with several House representatives, including House Speaker John Boehner. Boehner has refused to bring an immigration reform bill passed by the Senate in June 2013 to a vote, claiming that there is not enough Republican support to pass it. Advocates disagree, and a major impetus behind the bishops’ trip was to urge legislators to move on this issue. Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio L. Elizondo of Seattle, chair of the USCCB Committee on Migration, highlighted the “moral urgency” of the situation, saying, “We need debate and vote on [immigration reform]. Inaction is equivalent to supporting the status quo, which Americans agree needs to be changed.”

The bishops processing after the Mass for Immigrants and Immigrant Families. Courtesy of USCCB Migration & Refugee Services.

The bishops processing after the Mass for Immigrants and Immigrant Families.
Courtesy of USCCB Migration & Refugee Services.

Call to Action: Check out the Justice for Immigrants web site, sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, for ways in which you can support more humane immigration reform and spur U.S. lawmakers to action.

http://www.justiceforimmigrants.org/index.shtml

Bishop Emeritus Ricardo Ramirez greets a well-wisher after Mass. Courtesy of USCCB Migration & Refugee Services.

Bishop Emeritus Ricardo Ramirez greets a well-wisher after Mass.
Courtesy of USCCB Migration & Refugee Services.

 

Children Detained at the Border

Unaccompanied migrant children escorted by U.S. Border Patrol agents. credit: James S Wood

Unaccompanied migrant children escorted by U.S. Border Patrol agents.
credit: James S Wood

With the recent entry of unaccompanied children at the Texas border, the KBI is staying informed about this troubling situation and investigating ways to be of service. Father Sean has attended meetings with various government agencies as well as church and advocacy groups, and toured the Nogales, AZ Border Patrol Station where some of the more than 1,000 children were transferred. He wrote in a June 12 KBI Special Alert that “most are teenagers but there are a smaller number of younger children. Based on the way they looked and on the facilities that had been set up, their physical needs seem to be met. Their psychological and spiritual well-being is less clear to me, due to the inability to speak and interact with the young people.”

The children are mostly from Central America, and have fled escalating gang violence and severe economic conditions in their native lands, crossing the length of Mexico to reunite with their families in the United States. The authorities have described the situation as a humanitarian crisis, and it is not likely to stop in the near future.

A young boy sleeps at one of the temporary detention centers. credit:  Michael Wallace AZ Red Cross

A young boy sleeps at one of the temporary detention centers.
credit: Michael Wallace AZ Red Cross

While the U.S. Border Patrol appears to be treating the children as well as possible, they are not equipped for the nature or magnitude of this task, and “warehousing” children while lawmakers consider how to address the problem has created numerous concerns, from the purely physical (can the children’s needs continue to be met?) to the psychological (how will ongoing separation from their families and lengthy detention affect these kids?).

Since the beginning of the year, more than 52,000 undocumented and unaccompanied children have entered the U.S. Numerous protests have called for a range of measures—better care for the children, reunification with their families, and more generally, immigration reform. At this writing, no solutions are forthcoming, though President Obama has issued a warning to the parents of these brave, vulnerable children: “Do not send your children to the borders. If they do make it, they’ll get sent back. More importantly, they may not make it.”

A migrant girl awaits resolution of this humanitarian crisis. photo by: Aldo Michelis.

A migrant girl awaits resolution of this humanitarian crisis.
photo by: Aldo Michelis.

The KBI will continue to monitor this crisis and keep you informed of the latest news. As Father Sean indicated in the KBI’s Special Alert, “The KBI remains very committed to collaborating with other churches and organizations to address the needs of these children. We will keep urging the federal government to work with us to provide direction and focus, so we offer assistance in the most effective way possible.”

Call to Action: Read more about the humanitarian crisis at the border at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) web site.

http://www.wola.org/publications/mexicos_other_border

 

The KBI Receives an Honorary Doctorate from Santa Clara University

Fr. Sean Carroll, S.J. holding the honorary doctorate from Santa Clara University, with SCU President Fr. Michael Engh, S.J. (l.) and Dr. Kristin Heyer, associate professor of religious studies at SCU (r.).  Photo by Charles Barry/Santa Clara University.

Fr. Sean Carroll, S.J. holding the honorary doctorate from Santa Clara University, with SCU President Fr. Michael Engh, S.J. (l.) and Dr. Kristin Heyer, associate professor of religious studies at SCU (r.).
Photo by Charles Barry/Santa Clara University.

Santa Clara University acknowledged the comprehensive work of the Kino Border Initiative “to help make humane, just, workable migration between the U.S. and Mexico a reality” with an Honorary Doctorate of Pastoral Ministry at their commencement ceremonies on June 14. Father Sean Carroll, the KBI’s executive director and one of its co-founders, received the degree on behalf of the KBI. In attendance, were several KBI board members—Board Chair Jane Lacovara and her husband Phil; past Chair Luis Fernando Parra, Esq., his wife Cecy, and their children Alan Fernando and Cristabela; Mark Potter and his wife Dr. Kristen Heyer, a theology professor at Santa Clara; and Lucy Howell and husband Steve. KBI staff members West Cosgrove, director of education, and Marla Conrad, migrant advocate/volunteer coordinator, were also in attendance as were Father Sean’s mother, Cathy Carroll and her husband Carl Walls. Dr. Kristin Heyer read the proclamation of the honorary doctorate at the commencement ceremony.

Recognizing that the KBI and Santa Clara University “share and uphold the same traditions, beliefs, and outlooks regarding social justice and concern for the poor and marginalized,” the degree honors five years of crucial and consistent work to “promote border and immigration policies that affirm the dignity of the human person and a spirit of bi-national solidarity.” The KBI does this through an extensive combination of programs—direct humanitarian assistance, education, and research and advocacy.

A very happy day for the KBI: (from left to right) past board chair Luis Parra, board member Lucy Howell, migrant advocate/volunteer coordinator Marla Conrad, current board chair Jane Lacovara, executive director Father Sean Carroll, his mother Cathy Carroll, board member Mark Potter, and director of education West Cosgrove. Photo by Steve Howell.

A very happy day for the KBI: (from left to right) past board chair Luis Parra, board member Lucy Howell, migrant advocate/volunteer coordinator Marla Conrad, current board chair Jane Lacovara, executive director Father Sean Carroll, his mother Cathy Carroll, board member Mark Potter, and director of education West Cosgrove.
Photo by Steve Howell.

Santa Clara University is a Jesuit, Catholic institution of more than 8,000 undergraduate and graduate students, and is committed to faith-inspired values of ethics and social justice. Located in Silicon Valley, it offers undergraduate degrees in arts and sciences, business and engineering, as well as masters, Ph.D., and law degrees. Founded in 1851, Santa Clara is California’s oldest institution of higher learning and is distinguished nationally by the fourth-highest graduation rate among all U.S. masters universities.

A great source of support for Father Sean—his mom Cathy Carroll.  Photo by Jane Lacovara.

A great source of support for Father Sean—his mom Cathy Carroll.
Photo by Jane Lacovara.

Call to Action: To learn more about the Kino Border Initiative’s programming and its work toward a more humane immigration policy, see: http://www.kinoborderinitiative.org/ To learn more about Santa Clara University, its mission, and academic programs, see: http://www.scu.edu/

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Up Close: The People of the KBI

KBI Supporters

By: Roxane Ramos

This month, we profile the people who have kept the Kino Border Initiative active since its inception in 2009 and who have infused the national debate about immigration reform with compassion and thoughtful consideration—you, the supporters of the KBI. At the borderlands and throughout the country, your actions, prayers and donations—in direct and indirect ways—move us closer to instituting a humane immigration policy that allows families to be together, offers economic opportunities to those who seek them, provides a path to citizenship, and restores dignity to undocumented migrants, our neighbors who are fleeing violence and poverty to pursue a better life.

Together we can create this positive change. At a time when immigration reform is on the forefront of public awareness, we honor your commitment and work that helped get us here. And we encourage your continued support, action and prayers in this critical effort to humanize the border rather than criminalize it, and to open our arms rather than turn away. Here are some ways to continue this effort.

Donations to the KBI keep the doors open, and provide meals and support to the migrants who arrive our outreach center. Photo by Larry Hanelin.

Donations to the KBI keep the doors open, and provide meals and support to the migrants who arrive our outreach center.
Photo by Larry Hanelin.

Donate • To the KBI: Your donation feeds, clothes, heals and houses the migrants the KBI serves. In addition, contributions to the KBI fund educational programming as well as advocacy efforts on behalf of the migrants and research to provide concrete information to policymakers.

http://www.kinoborderinitiative.org/get-involved/donate/

West Cosgrove, KBI Director of Education, leads KBI visitors on a desert hike, a way to “walk in the migrants’ footsteps.” Photo by Marilynn Lorenz.

West Cosgrove, KBI Director of Education, leads KBI visitors on a desert hike, a way to “walk in the migrants’ footsteps.”
Photo by Marilynn Lorenz.

Take Action

• Visit the KBI and spend time with the migrants and the KBI staff at the outreach center and shelter. Day visits as well as immersion experiences (longer trips of 1–3 days) bring you right to the border to learn more about immigration issues first-hand. KBI staff are also available for presentations and workshops at your parish, school or local organization. http://www.kinoborderinitiative.org/fees-for-educational-programming/

• Help keep families together by signing the petition sponsored by United We Dream, a non-partisan, youth-led organization advocating for the dignity and fair treatment of immigrant youth and families, regardless of immigration status. http://unitedwedream.org/action/stop-deportations/open-cases/#

• Write House Speaker John Boehner and urge him to bring immigration law 744, to a vote. This bill was already passed in the Senate and addresses the issue of family reunification for migrants. http://www.speaker.gov/CONTACT

• If you’ve had an opportunity to visit the KBI, have had a transformative encounter, or wish to raise the awareness of others, consider writing an article for your parish newsletter or local paper. One of the strongest ways we can educate others about the critical issue of immigration reform is by telling our stories and sharing our views.

Becoming more informed about border issues reveals the urgent need for immigration reform. Photo by Larry Hanelin.

Becoming more informed about border issues reveals the urgent need for immigration reform.
Photo by Larry Hanelin.

Be Informed

• Read articles you may have missed from Passages, the KBI newsletter. http://www.kinoborderinitiative.org/category/news/

• Learn about the latest immigration-related news and ways you can get more involved at BorderLinks, a Tucson-based KBI partner that raises awareness about the impact of border and immigration policies through dynamic educational experiences.

• Rent Who Is Dayani Cristal?, a documentary by Marc Silver. Actor and activist Gael García Bernal retraces the journey of a migrant who died along the stretch of desert known as “the corridor of death,” providing a rare view of what migrants experience on el camino. Each year 400–500 migrants lose their lives during the crossing. http://whoisdayanicristal.com/

• Arrange for a screening of Documented, a film by José Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist. Migrating to the U.S. at the age of 12 from the Philippines to live with his documented grandparents, Vargas speaks out about his undocumented status in the hopes of illuminating the challenges of mixed-status families and advocating for policy change. http://documentedthefilm.com/

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Special Alert for Friends of the KBI

June 12, 2014

Dear Friends of the Kino Border Initiative:

As many of you are aware, a high number of migrant children, mostly from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, have been crossing the U.S.-Mexico border recently into South Texas. They flee violence and extreme poverty in their countries of origin, and many seek to be reunified with their parents in the United States.

Last Thursday, June 5, I found out that some of these children were being transported from South Texas to Arizona by plane, and then taken by bus to the U.S. Border Patrol Station in Nogales, Arizona. This decision was made due to the high number of children being detained and a lack of space to receive them. On the same day, I spoke twice by phone with a Border Patrol representative and asked for permission to visit, to assess the needs of the children. At that time, I was not allowed to have access to the children.

I have had a number of conversations with Rev. David Myers, Senior Adviser to FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) to request a plan to outline the needs of the children and a process to solicit and receive donations. While I have been promised that the plan is forthcoming, I still have not received it as of today.

On Tuesday, June 10, I attended a meeting with representatives of the Santa Cruz County Emergency Management team, to discuss the situation and to strategize ways to help.

Yesterday, Wednesday, June 11, I was granted permission to visit the U.S. Border Patrol Station, along with local and federal government representatives. We were given a briefing and were able to tour the place where the children are staying, though we were not able to speak with the children. However, we were able to see some of the young people going to lunch. Most are teenagers but there are a smaller number of younger children. Based on the way they looked and on the facilities that had been set up, their physical needs seem to be met. Their psychological and spiritual well-being is less clear to me, due to the inability to speak and interact with the young people.

It looks like migrant children will continue to arrive in Nogales in the foreseeable future. The KBI remains very committed to collaborating with other churches and organizations to address the needs of these children. We will keep urging the federal government to work with us to provide direction and focus, so we offer assistance in the most effective way possible.

I continue to be grateful for your prayers and generous support of the KBI.

God bless,

Rev. Sean Carroll, S.J.
Executive Director

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Walking the Walk

From the beginning, Pope Francis has led through both word and example, guiding Catholics—and the rest of the world—to the basic principles of love and compassion that Jesus taught.

By Roxane Ramos

The day before Pope Francis’s meeting with President Obama earlier this year, 10-year old Jersey Vargas from Los Angeles, CA rushed up to the pontiff as he greeted the throngs in St. Peter’s Square. She told him about the plight of undocumented migrants in the U.S., and the pain of being separated from one’s family during the detention and deportation process.

Pope Francis with President Barack Obama, March 2014. Public domain image from Wiki Commons, photo by Pete Souza.

Pope Francis with President Barack Obama, March 2014.
Public domain image from Wiki Commons, photo by Pete Souza.

Though young, Jersey could speak with authority about the heartbreak of these all-too-frequent scenarios—her father Mario was being held in a Louisiana detention facility, slated to be among the 200,000 migrants deported from the U.S. each year. Like 80% of the migrants detained in these centers, Mario, who has lived in the U.S. since the age of 16, was brought in for a minor infraction (typically, a traffic violation), and now faced the worst possible outcome—separation from his wife and daughter, possibly for years. Jersey, the youngest of a group of immigration activists visiting the Vatican that week, explained, “I went back to ask him to help us because it’s unfair that many children like me are faced with this situation, separated from our families. He blessed me, gave me a kiss and confirmed to me he would be seeing President Obama.”

Defending the rights of migrants, refugees, and other displaced people has been one of the hallmarks of Francis’s short papacy. His first pastoral visit outside the Vatican was to Lampedusa, a small island off the coast of Sicily and 70 miles north of Tunisia, where African migrants congregate, waiting for boats to take them to Italy and economic opportunities in the European Union. During his visit there, the Holy Father prayed for those lost at sea at a Mass held near a “graveyard” of wrecked boats, reassuring refugees and migrants, “The Church is near to you in the search for a more dignified life for yourselves and for your families.”

Pope Francis among the people of St. Peter’s Square in Rome, May 2013. Public domain image from Wiki Commons, photo by Edgar Jiménez.

Pope Francis among the people of St. Peter’s Square in Rome, May 2013.
Public domain image from Wiki Commons, photo by Edgar Jiménez.

Only eight square miles, Lampedusa functions as something of an unofficial Ellis Island for Europe, though the African migrants who pass through, like their Latin American counterparts entering the United States, lack what immigrants arriving in New York could rely on a century ago—a comprehensive and welcoming immigration policy that provides a legal route to citizenship.

Today’s migrants leave their homes of origin to follow much the same dreams as those Ellis Island entrants; they want to improve their lives and those of their families. Sometimes they are joining family members, sometimes they are fleeing violence, but always it is a serious decision to undertake such a journey. Migrants from both Africa and Latin America face numerous hazards (choppy seas or harsh desert terrain) as well as risks of exploitation, violence or death. In 2012, close to 500 Africans drowned en route to Europe, despite the Italian coast guard’s conscientious responses to calls for help, distressingly similar to the migrant death toll of 477 here.

And just a few short months after the Pope’s visit to Lampedusa, over 360 died when a boat carrying 300 migrants sank off the island’s coast, the highest number of fatalities from a single incident so far. Offering his condolences, Pope Francis called the tragedy “a disgrace.”

The Pope’s main agenda is three-fold: to draw attention to the suffering of migrants and refugees, the horrors of human trafficking, and the pervasive problem of poverty. The high profile nature of his office provides one of the most prominent “pulpits” in the world, yet the great moral force of his words comes from something very basic—his example of humility and his simple message of compassion and love. In this, Francis has not only captured the minds and hearts of Catholics, but of a wider world of people who are troubled by the inequities and injustices around us.

Much has been made of Pope Francis’s rejection of extravagance in his day-to-day life and on his overseas visits. (In Lampedusa, he rode in an open-top Fiat jeep loaned by a Milanese family with a summer house on the island.) Journalists seem surprised and amused by the absence of designer footwear, for example. But this particular sartorial choice resonates powerfully with the displaced peoples he champions, roaming the world with little more than the clothes on their backs. Their shoes are worn through, often held together with duct tape or reinforced at the soles with carpet remnants, as they tread long miles and endure life-threatening conditions, to seek a better life.

Pope Francis, welcomed by a crowd in Vargihna, Brazil, July 2013. Public domain image from Wiki Commons, photo by Tânia Rêgo.

Pope Francis, welcomed by a crowd in Vargihna, Brazil, July 2013.
Public domain image from Wiki Commons, photo by Tânia Rêgo.

By removing the pomp, Pope Francis has cut through to the heart of the seemingly impenetrable problems of our day, without any embellishment or comfort for the comfortable. “We are a society which has forgotten how to weep, how to experience compassion—‘suffering with’ others. The globalization of indifference has taken from us the ability to weep.” Who better than the Pope to remind us of the word’s Latin roots: “compassion” from com/with and pati/to bear. The simple message of economic justice and tolerance is getting through. President Obama quoted Pope Francis when addressing the debate about income inequality in December. And politicians in Washington, D.C., are also invoking the Pope’s sentiments as they consider the critical issue of immigration reform. Change—or at least a push for a House vote on immigration legislation passed by the Senate last year—appears to be in the air.

For one Los Angeles family, a small change has made a great impact. Mario Vargas was released from the detention center after a cousin, seeing Jersey interviewed on the news, helped with posting his $5,000 bail. An immigration judge will determine if Mario is to be deported. For now, he is reunited with his wife and daughter and, though the future is uncertain, Mario—and millions of people around the globe seeking refuge and legal recognition—have the most steadfast of friends and an eloquent spokesperson in Vatican City.

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