A Place to Call Home?
President Obama recently approved a plan allowing Central American children to apply for refugee status in the United States. The program would establish processing centers in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, countries plagued by gang violence. Thousands of Central American families have sent their children to relatives in the United States to escape violence and poverty. In June alone, over 10,000 unaccompanied minors traveled through Mexico to the United States. The new in-country centers are intended to reduce this number.
Skeptics have criticized the plan, claiming it will further burden the broken U.S. immigration system. Supporters of the action have commended the president for being proactive about the border migration crisis. More must be done, however, to provide refugee assistance, beginning with an increase in the number of visas provided yearly by the United States Refugee Admissions Program.
In 2013 the United States distributed 69,926 refugee visas, with the largest allocations made for religious minorities from Iraq, Bhutan and Iran. Only 4,400 were given to individuals from Latin America and the Caribbean. This is not enough. In 2014 the number of unaccompanied minors entering the United States from Central America—so far over 60,000—will likely surpass the total refugee visas distributed last year. President Obama should allocate more visas and provide better guidelines for Central American children. His plan must take into account the recent surge in minors and bear in mind the violent situations these children are risking their lives to escape.
‘Coercive and Discriminatory’
The decision by the State of California to require that all health insurance policies cover voluntary abortions is so radical that one wonders about the political calculation involved. The decision clearly violates the Weldon Amendment, a federal law enacted in 2005 to protect the conscience rights of institutions and individuals. Is the state trying to appease an influential constituency, knowing that their decision will not likely withstand judicial review?
The decision is shocking in its sweep. For the first time, California will require insurance companies to cover all abortions, including gender selection and late-term abortion, under the umbrella of “basic health service.” In an interview with The National Catholic Reporter, Bishop Robert W. McElroy, auxiliary bishop of San Francisco, pointed to the dangers inherent in presenting abortion as just another medical procedure. “This Orwellian logic is part of a larger cultural and political effort to marginalize the widely shared recognition in American society that the act of abortion is morally suspect on a profound level,” he wrote.
Two Jesuit universities, Loyola Marymount and Santa Clara, had sought to remove abortion coverage from their health insurance policies this year. Abortion rights groups complained loudly, prompting this change in state policy. The California Catholic Conference has rightly filed a federal civil rights complaint. In addition to violating the Weldon Amendment, the state’s ruling is at odds with the Affordable Care Act, which mandates that the new health insurance exchanges include plans that do not cover abortion. Bishop McElroy is right: the decision is “coercive and discriminatory” and cannot be allowed to stand lest other states follow suit.
Mercy on the Mediterranean
“We don’t know where to go to cry for them,” one survivor told Pope Francis at a gathering on Oct. 1 to mark the anniversary of the Lampedusa tragedy. A year after more than 360 migrants perished in a shipwreck off the tiny Italian island, many families still do not know where the recovered bodies of their loved ones were laid to rest. The question for the international community is: Do we know how to cry for them at all?
Violence and instability in the Middle East and North Africa are driving unprecedented numbers of migrants and refugees to risk their lives on the ramshackle, overcrowded boats of opportunistic smugglers with the hope of washing up on Europe’s shores. So far this year, 130,000 irregular migrants have made it to Europe’s southern border; over 3,500 have died at sea trying.
To its credit, Italy has launched a search and rescue operation, called Mare Nostrum, that saved over 140,000 people in the past 12 months. But James Stapleton, head of communications for Jesuit Refugee Service International, says that Italy and the other southern European countries do not have the capacity to confront this crisis alone. J.R.S. has called on the European Union border agency to take responsibility and go “into international waters, where most people are losing their lives.”
As long as desperate populations are willing to take to the sea, however, some lives will likely be lost. To discourage refugees from making this gamble, Europe should greatly increase its resettlement and humanitarian admissions for displaced and vulnerable populations. Pope Francis prayed “for closed hearts that they may open” toward migrants. We hope more open borders will follow.