Pope Francis: Why are we surprised people flee violence and poverty?

Written by Steve Pehanich

“This humanitarian emergency requires, as a first urgent measure, these children be welcome and protected,” said Pope Francis in a message about the large number of unaccompanied children seeking safety from the violence of their Central American homes.[1]

The concept that people seek safety and security did not start when the media noticed the children crossing the border or when one government or another failed to solve a problem.

Survival is as basic a human instinct as it gets.

Migration to find protection from danger is a fundamental concept. Globalization, says the Pope, has accelerated the process but it certainly didn’t create it.

So why are so many voices demanding a solution to some portion of the migration crisis before we help the children?

One of the most common openings in the debate about helping unaccompanied minors goes something like this: “Yes, we need to help the children, but first we must...” There follows various political posturing. We have heard it all before.

None of these political talking points address the plight of these children right now.

In the event of a disaster – natural or man-made – we first help the victims then deal with a ways to mitigate the effects of the disaster.

Sending these children back to dangers in their home countries is like sending them back into a burning building until we can fix the fire codes that lead to the unsafe conditions in the first place.

“Migrants and refugees are not pawns on the chessboard of humanity,” says Pope Francis.[2] “They are children, women and men who leave or who are forced to leave their homes for various reasons, who share a legitimate desire for knowing and having, but above all for being more.”

In the current situation, we are not even talking about securing a better life – we’re literally talking about staying alive.

Homicide rates in Central America are some of the highest in the world. National governments have failed to stop the violence but does that mean we send the children back as fodder for the drug cartels or human traffickers?

A bi-partisan bill (passed by voice vote in the House and unanimous consent in the Senate) and signed in the waning days of the Bush Administration - said no to that absurd proposition.[3] But the bill was never intended to deal with the numbers of children.

Negating it now and sending the children back to violence-wracked villages and towns faster than before isn’t much of an answer. How many will die or be forced into trafficking or drug gangs while we work things out in Congress?

This is a humanitarian crisis just like one created by a war or famine. Do we send children back into war zones? Do we send starving people back into famine areas? Why would we send children back into violence and drugs?

We need to continue working on the global dynamics, wars, natural and man-made disasters and economic conditions that create such crises but let’s not fool ourselves into believing that we are capable of solving all of humanities problems as part of the next election cycle.

As the California Bishops said in their statement, “We recognize the passion surrounding this issue. We call on all Californians of good will to express themselves with civility and respect, and to refrain from violence. We ask the Catholic community to join together in solidarity with these children of God, our brothers and sisters, to provide help and give them hope.”

[1] Pope calls for protection of unaccompanied child migrants

[2] Pope Francis' Message for World Day of Migrants and Refugees

[3] California Catholics Respond to “Humanitarian Crisis”

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