Here’s why every child at the border belongs to all of us

Anita Areli Ramirez Mejia, an asylum seeker from Honduras, hugs her 6-year-old son, Jenri, July 13 at La Posada Providencia shelter in San Benito, Texas. The mother and son were reunited after being separated near the Mexico-U.S. border. (CNS photo/Loren Elliott, Reuters) 

Who are the children whose terrified faces we have seen in images from our southern border as they were literally torn from their mother’s arms? They were, yes, Mexican and Salvadoran, Guatemalan and Honduran. But whose were they also and truly?

In the days after World Refugee Day this year, Jesuit Refugee Service/USA was clear about its care. We urged the U.S. government to ensure that people are not criminally punished for trying to seek asylum and that the rights and dignity of children and families entering the United States are respected. We affirmed that U.S. policies calling for the indefinite detention of families seeking asylum are contrary to Catholic teaching and violate the rights of asylum seekers and the dignity of children and their families. They also put at risk the long-term mental health and well-being of children and their parents. 

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We believe in the ability of men and women of good will to reason together on how to care for all members of their societies and above all for the most vulnerable members.

Our advocacy was based on the intrinsic dignity and inalienable value of all human beings and their equal and essential rights as members of the human family. We believe in the ability of men and women of good will to reason together on how to care for all members of their societies and above all for the most vulnerable members. We stand on the principle that commitment to the common good is the presupposition for our very right to freedom and democracy. In accord with the principles proclaimed in the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we see this vision as indeed the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.

International law, we believe, is likewise foundational for the cooperation and common good of nations today. The right to asylum is part of that law, not a matter of occasional generosity on the part of certain host countries. It is a right embedded in the dignity of every human being to migrate from any environment where violence and oppression threaten the lives of people and their families. It is expressly stated in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (which the United States is woefully alone among 197 nations in not endorsing) that children should not be separated from their parents, that a child seeking refugee status is entitled to protection and humanitarian assistance and that the child has a right to education. These are not partisan or “liberal” positions. They are expressions of humanity seeking to be true to itself and its future. J.R.S., as a fully international organization, places its trust and hope in reasonable men and women seeking to be part of a worldwide community for which justice and peace are not mere baselines but the conditions for comity and, ultimately, friendship without restriction.

The biblical witness speaks repeatedly of welcoming the stranger.

We have also been inspired by the converging convictions of the major faith traditions—and not least by Pope Francis, who has reminded us that “every stranger who knocks at our door in an opportunity for an encounter with Jesus Christ, who identifies with the welcomed and rejected strangers of every age” (Mt 25:35-43). Since his first visit to Lampedusa in July 2013, the pope has seen the situation of migrants and refugees as an irrefutable “sign of the times,” a signal of the Spirit that challenges and chastens all of humanity today.

Francis calls us toward an ideal of welcome, protection and promotion for migrants. But it is a practical ideal, desperately needed for a world in crisis shaped by untold violence and injustice. And he does not hesitate to call for trust in “the opportunities for intercultural enrichment brought about by the presence of migrants and refugees” through their integration into new societies. His culture of encounter refuses the vision of zero-sum cultural competition and affirms instead that cultural diversity, the many families within the one family of God, is the seedbed of renewal, recreation and new birth.

The biblical witness speaks repeatedly of welcoming the stranger. And in the parable of the good Samaritan, we see that the stranger in need is our neighbor indeed. The refugee is not really “a stranger” but one of us, part of us, someone without whom we are literally less. Exclusionary rhetoric raising the specters of the dangerous, the infected and the criminal “other” is not simply a morally unacceptable characterization of migrants. It is an indictment of ourselves.

The children at the border—at any border—are not “someone else’s,” even granting, of course, the primary rights of their parents. They are our children.

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Greg Heck
2 months 1 week ago

Your charity is misplaced.

Tim Donovan
2 months 1 week ago

I don't have any children, but as an uncle who frequently cared for my nieces and nephew in past years, and as a Special Education teacher who instructed children with brain damage, I believe that I care deeply about children. As a pro-life moderate Republican, I believe that immigrants should be welcomed into our nation. Years ago, I worked with disabled men at a group home with several co-workers who were immigrants from Liberia. These caring, dedicated people had fled from a brutal civil war, to seek a better life in our nation. At the nursing home where I live, many of the nurses and assistants are immigrants, primarily from African countries. I can't claim that I like them all. However, most of them take good care of me and the other residents, and I enjoy learning about their families, native countries, and cultures.

Allison Quinn
2 months ago

Illegals are dishonest adults, dishonest journalists will focus on “the children”. Not falling for it. Most people’s SOULS will be harmed by coming to countries like the modern United States. But it’s never about souls with the SJW communists, and very rarely about God and salvation.

Robin Smith
2 months ago

Allison, it's truly a shame you've found this site and that you decided to make such a stunningly, despicable comment when talking about kids that have had no say in where they go when their parents are trying to find a better life for them.
I can't imagine the horrible childhood you must have had to be so callous and hateful on a christian site talking about the physical and emotional life of kids.
I really do pity you. May you find some peace in this world before you leave it.

Monica Storozuk
2 months ago

Thank you Robin for your reply to Allison. I wonder too how she can be so hard in her heart. I hope her heart will be healed so that she can be a loving force in this world.

Monica Storozuk
2 months ago

Thank you Robin for your reply to Allison. I wonder too how she can be so hard in her heart. I hope her heart will be healed so that she can be a loving force in this world.

Dan Garcia
2 months ago

I am surprised by the dearth of reprehensible, unchristlike comments accompanying this article, given what I'd seen on others. Maybe it's just early yet.

Phillip Stone
2 months ago

I think you meant to say something else - ask any online thesaurus what dearth signifies.
If not, what did you mean to convey?

Cathe Shoulberg
2 months ago

Thank you for a wonderful article! You remind all of us why this country began! All are welcome, especially the children! People have the basic right to live without fear. All children have the right to be safe and secure! May all Americans remember this!

Phillip Stone
2 months ago

Be careful what you wish for!
Your country began by armed invasion of an already inhabited hoard of migrants who arrived quite a long time before the European ships crossed the Atlantic.
The original migrants were happily warring with one another or practising slavery and human sacrifice or living quiet humble lives.

At another level, do you know who the Pilgrim Fathers were - protestants against the Church of England Protestants.
Not so Catholic then, eh?

Then there were all those slave owners and slave traffickers and traders.

Then there was the violent revolution led by more apostates, Unitarians.

Yes, it looks like 21s century USA is still doing the same-old same old.
I challenge you and all the American exceptionalists to look after the children closer to home.
Just today, in ONE day, 123 missing children were retrieved by law enforcement in one county - what sort of family culture does that reveal in downtown, suburban USA? Your glorious experiment in nation building also supports a legal industry in infant execution so widespread that the most dangerous place for a tiny baby in the USA is in its mothers womb.

All are welcome, especially the children indeed!

Cathe Shoulberg
2 months ago

Thank you for a wonderful article! You remind all of us why this country began! All are welcome, especially the children! People have the basic right to live without fear. All children have the right to be safe and secure! May all Americans remember this!

Cathe Shoulberg
2 months ago

Thank you for a wonderful article! You remind all of us why this country began! All are welcome, especially the children! People have the basic right to live without fear. All children have the right to be safe and secure! May all Americans remember this!

John Sharpe
2 months ago

When you use terms like “tearing from the arms of mothers” and “children in cages” you lose credibility because you’re using emotional propaganda slogans used by open border advocates that permit human sex and drug trafficking to go unabated. You offer no answers or solutions that will protect these children from being raped or used as drug mules...but it’s not the first time the Jesuits ave failed to protect the children in favor of hiding the perpetrators

Monica Storozuk
2 months ago

John have you known any undocumented immigrants or refugees first-hand? Your words seem to come from a place far removed from their suffering. I see that my email address appears on my comments (I'm not sure why). I invite you to send me an email to continue this conversation.
One thought: can we not be opposed to both children being used as drug mules AND separating vulnerable children from their parents?

John Sharpe
2 months ago

Yes, but first you need to tell me how you think the border agents should verify the adult holding that child’s hand is their parent? Are you saying that none of these children weren’t already ripped from their mothers arms in their country of origin, or worse yet sold ? How do you know for sure???

John Sharpe
2 months ago

Yes, but first you need to tell me how you think the border agents should verify the adult holding that child’s hand is their parent? Are you saying that none of these children weren’t already ripped from their mothers arms in their country of origin, or worse yet sold ? How do you know for sure???

Monica Storozuk
2 months ago

Thanks for your reply. I have been doing some reading and it seems that in the vast majority of cases the children separated at the border are not victims of trafficking. But let's say for the sake of argument that this is a true concern. Would you agree that every effort must be made to expedite the process to positively identify the children and reunite them with their parents? Do you agree with the title of this article that every child at the border belongs to all of us? If so then we are on the same side. As Pope Francis says let us build bridges not walls.

Renee Jimenez
2 months ago

Yes, very far removed indeed. I grew up in an Arizona border town and lived there until 2008. The suffering I observed was very close and very personal. Human trafficking was rampant then, and still is today. All of those poor people are hidden in houses locally but temporarily. The people who traffic in human beings mean no good will to them. They make false promises to them and their dreams become nightmares. Almost every resident is aware those homes are out there, perhaps even in their own neighborhoods. The police are able to make some arrests and free these damaged human beings, but the truth is they barely make a dent. Drug smuggling was always there, but it exploded in the 1990's and has never stopped. Where there are drugs and prostitution there is crime, and a lot of it. It's a huge area, and is almost impossible to patrol and of course there is no actual sign or even a line of demarcation in most places. I've driven the route to the border entry many times. We used to go across the border to the town to shop or eat. It's too dangerous to go there now.
Trust me I'm all for asylum, but this is really out of control. There has to be a way to allow time for people to be vetted with dignity. As far as parents with children I would think a simple cheek swab would do it. Doing a simple DNA test is insuring that the children and teens really are with their parents, and not a smuggler. Human trafficking must stop.

John Sharpe
2 months ago

I think some people people who buy into the open borders narrative are good people with good intentions, they’re just incredibly naive and gullible. If you were a big time drug smuggler or involved in sex trafficking which side of this debate would you support!

John Sharpe
2 months ago

I think some people people who buy into the open borders narrative are good people with good intentions, they’re just incredibly naive and gullible. If you were a big time drug smuggler or involved in sex trafficking which side of this debate would you support!

Monica Storozuk
2 months ago

John. Thank you for granting that those with whom you disagree may be good people with good intentions. I sincerely believe the same of you
But in your zero tolerance world It seems that you envision that the suffering of children is necessary and desirable. Those who do not like to see innocent children suffer are "gullible" and "naive". Again I say, you are likely far removed from those who come to the border in desperate circumstances. I challenge you to learn more first-hand. Your words would carry more weight if you were to spend some time in the trenches. Check out your local parish. Get involved with refugees and others in dire circumstances. Then update us with your personal insights having worked closely with those for whom you show so little empathy.

Monica Storozuk
2 months ago

John. Thank you for granting that those with whom you disagree may be good people with good intentions. I sincerely believe the same of you
But in your zero tolerance world It seems that you envision that the suffering of children is necessary and desirable. Those who do not like to see innocent children suffer are "gullible" and "naive". Again I say, you are likely far removed from those who come to the border in desperate circumstances. I challenge you to learn more first-hand. Your words would carry more weight if you were to spend some time in the trenches. Check out your local parish. Get involved with refugees and others in dire circumstances. Then update us with your personal insights having worked closely with those for whom you show so little empathy.

John Sharpe
2 months ago

When you use terms like “tearing from the arms of mothers” and “children in cages” you lose credibility because you’re using emotional propaganda slogans used by open border advocates that permit human sex and drug trafficking to go unabated. You offer no answers or solutions that will protect these children from being raped or used as drug mules...but it’s not the first time the Jesuits ave failed to protect the children in favor of hiding the perpetrators

Will Niermeyer
2 months ago

Enough of this caring for the children at the border. Let's concentrate our efforts on the poor and neglected children who are citizens of the USA. As a retire teacher I have seen many of them. Please we need to take of of our own first then exercise charity to those legal children at the border.

Monica Storozuk
2 months ago

It does not have to be either/or. Matthew 25 does not say "I was hungry and I was a citizen of your country and so you fed me." Let's do good and relieve suffering wherever we can.

Terry Kane
2 months ago

This article does not discriminate between illegal aliens, asylum seekers, drug mules and human traffickers. There are big differences! Why not just say ALL children are our children?
Americans need not feel guilty that our country is a fantastic place to live, and who wouldn't like to live here? America and Americans give more in charitable aid than any other nation on earth, but we do not have an obligation to accept every person into this land. We have a nation with borders and our law says that one need to obtain permission to enter. If one enters without permission, the law was broken. That isn't too difficult to understand. Does it make sense to accept those who break the law on entry? If someone breaks into your home, would you ask them what they'd like to eat, or would you tell them to get out and call the police?
Asylum seekers are accepted if they follow the rules. However, they must be actually need asylum to qualify for admission. If they merely want a better life, good for them, but it has to be good for us as well. Otherwise, if they are going to be a drain on our society, they can go elsewhere. Just because they are within walking distance of our border doesn't make them eligible to enter.
So many tell us that this country is not a Christian nation, yet many want us to act as if it were. We Christian Americans, as individuals, should give to the poor and make charity a part of our lives. Our government is different - it gives foreign aid to other nations and helps in other ways as well. That is a large expense, which we pay for, but it is intended to help others in their homelands. Our government should not take our tax money and use it to make life better here for foreigners who do not belong here, that would be much more than foreign aid American taxpayer money. Taxpayer money should be spent for the benefit of taxpayers.
The article above is well meaning, but priests do not determine who can and cannot enter our great nation. If Father O'Donovan wants to make policy, great! He should run for office. However, we just had an election in 2016 and we elected a man who ran on a platform of building a border wall and stopping illegal immigration. This great president, Donald J. Trump, is not against immigration (he is married to an immigrant, in fact he has married two immigrants, LEGAL immigrants), but he is looking out for the interests of American citizens. Would that the Catholic Church cared more for those people.

John Walton
2 months ago

Here's what the child at the border is telling us: "I am fleeing a country which doesn't respect me." Unpack that!

Debra Roberts
2 months ago

Please keep the faith that you are teaching some and keep up the good work!

I subscribe to America to refresh my soul and learn more at a time when I can find precious few Americans who are Christian first and Americans second, including people who claim to be Catholic. I now know that it is foolish for me to read the comments after an online article! For far too many wish to air their ingorance and hatred and abuse the writers. I pray that there are enough like minded people to keep your publication afloat, as it is truly blessing to me. Thank you!

Debra Roberts
2 months ago

Please keep the faith that you are teaching some and keep up the good work!

I subscribe to America to refresh my soul and learn more at a time when I can find precious few Americans who are Christian first and Americans second, including people who claim to be Catholic. I now know that it is foolish for me to read the comments after an online article! For far too many wish to air their ingorance and hatred and abuse the writers. I pray that there are enough like minded people to keep your publication afloat, as it is truly blessing to me. Thank you!

Terry Kane
2 months ago

Debra Roberts - Are you calling those of us Catholics who, "read comments after an online article" fools? Do you think they just spew, "ingorance [sic] and hatred"? That would be offensive and hurtful to the people who use this space to express our opinions.
Do you think it is wise to post comments to be read by fools?

Mario Calvo
2 months ago

First off Terry, Debra was not calling anyone here a fool, if you would actually read what she said "I now know that it is foolish for me to read the comments after an online article!", not people that post comments are fools. She is indicating her own actions as "foolish", which is nowhere near what you are indicating on your post. Apples meet oranges. Now second, one can express their opinions here in regards to the article and/or comments posted by others and yes some of those comments are at times hateful and ignorant and many more times they are not, do those people who knowingly post hate and ignorance realize that they are hurting others and offending them ? Again go back and reread what she wrote and what you wrote I hope you realize that your response has nothing to do with what she wrote.

Mary Gillespie
2 months ago

I have been teaching immigrants and refugees to our country for 20+ years. My grandparents were immigrants (really refugees from Ireland). I visit detainees in jails (called detention centers) today because of the horrendous policies of this Administration. America Readers - the people I know come here because of natural disasters, drug wars in their home countries (fueled by our buying drugs from them), lack of viable economies (because of epidemic greed), war (the Middle East), civil war (Sudan, Libya, others). The people who come usually arrive with nothing because they have spent anything they might have getting here. They come asking for asylum (which our present Administration refuses to understand or accept). They are mothers and fathers and children and grandparents. They are treated abominably - almost as abominably as the blacks in the south before and after Jim Crow days. My hear goes out to them. I love them. They love back and we work hard together. The scare tactics used by this administration are not Christian. The terrible effects of incarceration in for profit prisons of parents and children seeking asylum is criminal. Catholics who overlook their responsibility to help people because they buy into these scare tactics are abrogating the requirements Christ laid on us to care for our neighbors. I give you that our Immigration policy at the national level is flawed. But republicans won't even allow any discussion of policy because they need it to garner voters. I know that there are some (actually very few) immigrants and refugees who are involved in criminal activities - and by darn - they should be deported. But there is little mercy today in how we care for people and children are a part of this. I pray every day that the Holy Spirit will touch the hearts of men and women in this country to resolve the situation I find my friends in....

Andrew Wolfe
2 months ago

Invading the authority of, and erasing the responsibility of parents at the border by claiming these children as "our own" is an ill-bethought bit of arrogance.

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