Jesuits Call on Jesuit Alumni in Congress to Protect Migrant Children Crossing U.S
The Society of Jesus in the United States has asked the 43 Congressional representatives who graduated from U.S. Jesuit high schools and colleges to “uphold the dignity of the human person and the sacredness of human life” when considering how to address the rise of children fleeing violence in Central America and migrating to the U.S.
In a letter to Speaker and Jesuit alumnus John Boehner (Xavier University), copied to Jesuit alumni in Congress, Fr. Thomas H. Smolich, SJ, president of the Jesuit Conference, called on Congress to uphold the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (TVPRA).
Currently, unaccompanied minors detained by Border Patrol agents are then handed over to the Department of Health and Human Services, which provides for them and gives them a chance to speak to authorities about their circumstances. Due to a perceived increase in the number of children crossing the border, resident Obama asked Congress to consider weakening the TVPRA in order to speed up the deportations of children. Now, the congressional leadership is seeking to more changes the law, which would allow Border Patrol agents to deport a child back to his or her home country, without the intervention of the Department of Health and Human Services.
In his letter dated July 29, Fr. Smolich said that a change to the TVPRA, “would result in children having a one-shot chance to disclose their persecution to a Customs and Border Protection agent or officer…” He called any attempt to dilute TVPRA “inhumane and an insult to American values.
“I am appalled by the suggestion that the U.S.should respond by cutting off access to safety for these children,” he wrote.
Fr. Smolich pointed out that Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala have become violent and dangerous for women and children, noting that El Salvador has the highest homicide rate against women in the world.
“This is not a new crisis, nor is it primarily at our border. Rather it has been escalating over the last decade…90 children are murdered or disappeared in Honduras every month,” wrote Fr. Smolich, pointing out to Speaker Boehner that “this is the equivalent of eight children being executed in your Congressional district every thirty days.”
Recalling the assassination of six Jesuits in El Salvador nearly 25 years ago, Fr. Smolich emphasized the Jesuits’ commitment to working with fellow Jesuits and lay partners in Central America, who live the reality of widespread violence. They see “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.”
“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’” Fr. Smolich concluded.