Home > Blog

The CWS Blog

Printer Friendly

Keep Vulnerable Migrant Children Out of Washington Politics

Rev. John L. McCullough  |  June 27, 2014

As originally published by The Hill, March 28, 2014, 3 pm

Our nation would rightfully be outraged if another country turned away 52,000 children seeking safety from violence, gang conscription, rape and drug wars. Yet, as this happens right now inside our own borders, some lawmakers have the audacity to use these innocent migrant children for their own partisan agenda. As neighbors, we have a moral obligation to support and protect these young sojourners from harm – whether it be extreme violence and desperation in making a dangerous journey – or the partisan abuse of their circumstances for political ends.

Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), and Reps. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Darrell Issa (R-calif.) have tried to cast blame upon the Obama administration by suggesting that the president created this crisis. The argument by these lawmakers that the administration has been weak on immigration enforcement couldn’t be further from the truth. The reality is that President Obama has deported more immigrants than any president in history.

Another claim made is that the Deferred Action for Childhoods Arrivals program is the reason for the significant increase in child migration. This program is not “amnesty” as Cruz has testified. In fact, it does not even provide a temporary legal status but only temporary “deferred action” from deportation to youth brought here as children before they were 16 and who have lived in the U.S. for at least five years, and would not apply to children who arrive today.

All of these claims ignore the fact that this is a regional humanitarian crisis impacting El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras most poignantly. The rate of displacement from these countries into neighboring Belize, Mexico and Nicaragua has soared by 435 percent according the United Nations, showing that push factors are much more to blame than pull factors.  What’s the real reason that children are migrating? The threat of violence means they simply have no other choice.

As Church World Service, we have deep experience working on child migration, protection and poverty reduction throughout the world and particularly in Central America. Every day we see children cross dangerous war zones to find safety. When fleeing violence, an “analysis” of immigration laws abroad does not compel a child to make such a perilous journey. The root causes of fear, physical violence and extreme poverty are typically the driving forces. In the case of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, a report from the UN Refugee Agency documents that these children are fleeing conscription into gangs and threats to their personal safety, including gender- and sexual- based violence. Honduras now has the highest homicide rate in the world.

We must set aside partisan bickering and stop the bold-face lies, so that instead we can work together as a people committed to protecting children. We need the right policy response and the resources and skill to back it up. The administration's current approach of detaining, removing, and denying many of these children access to life-saving protection is immoral, illegal and entirely short-sighted.

The Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services need to embrace the recommendations of experts and non-governmental organizations to ensure access to medical care, mental health services and legal representation along with the quick release of children to families, foster care or group homes as soon as possible while they await their immigration court dates.

In addition, we have heard recent reports that the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement, the agency responsible for the care of unaccompanied children, is seeing a major shortfall in funding, since the number of children has exceeded projections. ORR has announced that they plan to divert funds intended for the resettlement of refugees in order to respond to this growing crisis. The administration seems able to find additional funds to add to the billions we spend on border security, while refugee services bear the brunt of cutbacks. This is not a moral solution.

We can’t shortchange our international obligations and global leadership in protecting refugees – including many children – to respond to this new crisis, as though we can only live by our values in convenient times. As Americans, we must rise to the challenge and approve additional funding to meet our moral and legal obligations to provide adequate services to unaccompanied children, refugees, and all vulnerable populations in ORR's care.

And we must go beyond just supporting these children that we now find in our midst. We also must identify ways to collaborate with the governments of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras to create programs that foster local economic development and protect youth from armed criminal groups.

As we respond as a nation and as faith communities to this great need, I am reminded of the familiar Biblical story in Luke 18 when the disciples suggested that the children be taken away. Instead, Jesus responded, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.”

McCullough is president and CEO of Church World Service, a global humanitarian agency with programs in development and humanitarian affairs, advocacy for social justice, and refugee assistance.

Back to The CWS Blog home


Submitted by Laurie Clocksin on Jun 27, 12:13 PM CDT
Reverend McCullough, I agree that vulnerable children should be kept out of politics, and definitely should not be used as political pawns. As I've followed news stories on children arriving to the US from Central America, astute individuals are asking exactly how did these children arrive, where are they being transported, and what will their conditions and care be like once they are inside the United States in "holding centers"? (Judging from pictures taken at the border in detention centers, they are being treated like animals.) A local article stated if they were re-located to a nearby Wal-Mart (??) that is closed down, they would be provided food, clothing, medical, and shelter for 120 days by order of DOD, but would not attend school. Putting aside for a moment how and why they arrived and assuming many are fleeing violence and abuse, are we able to care for them? How are the children coping without parents? Which leads to the question, even in the worst circumstances, did thousands of parents "release" their children for the hope of a better life? How do we know that some weren't forced to go? I had a dream about two years ago that showed a multitude of South or Central American people dying, represented by falling dominoes, which made no sense to me at the time. Something about this situation does not ring with reality. It is a horrible thought, but I don't believe the American government is either equipped or intent on taking care of these refugee's well-being. How do we know they won't be farmed out as sex slaves? Who is keeping track of the numbers? I read that Federal officials won't comment on possible re-location plans. Who is holding them accountable? Even if plans to care for them are well-intended, which I doubt, communities are likely not to welcome them. And what in the world are they going to do with that many children if there are no family members here to accept them? They will be worse off than before. Please contact me if there is anything I can do to help. Sincerely, Laurie Clocksin Something about this situation does not ring with reality.

Do you have a comment?

Email Address*
Enter this word: