Pope Francis is the latest voice to join the debate about the thousands of child migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border, saying children should be “welcomed and protected” as they attempt to cross into the U.S.
In a letter presented Monday to Vatican officials attending a conference on migration and development in Mexico City, the Pope said that globalization has made migration “a hallmark of our society and a challenge.” In the Vatican Radio translation of the letter, Francis expressed his concerns for “the tens of thousands of children who migrate alone, unaccompanied, to escape poverty and violence,” calling them “a category of migrants …who cross the border with the United States under extreme conditions and in pursuit of a hope that in most cases turns out to be vain.” He noted that the number of these children attempting to cross the border is increasing daily.
At the end of his letter, Pope Francis called on the international community to seek appropriate responses to the crisis, saying that the most “urgent measure” is that “these children be welcomed and protected.” He suggested that all involved countries cooperate to find a solution, through strategies including policies to inform local populations about the dangers of attempting such a border crossing, promoting development in the migrants’ countries of origin and defining “new forms of legal and secure migration.”
The Pope’s comments come amidst an international migration crisis, with the U.S. and Central American countries grappling with how to deal with the unprecedented influx of unaccompanied minors making the journey north.
On June 15, the body of 15-year-old Guatemalan migrant Gilberto Francisco Ramos Juarez was discovered in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, less than a mile from the closest home. Ramos Juarez became symbolic of the dangers facing the thousands of children who attempt to cross illegally into the U.S., and his death spurred a national dialogue on how to prevent similar tragedies in the face of such record numbers.
Since October, authorities have detained approximately 57,000 unaccompanied minors, double the amount from the same period the previous year. The U.S. Justice Department is currently processing more than 375,000 migrant cases, which are being handled by a total of only 243 judges. In one year, Mexico, which is the main point of entry for nearly all Central American migrants, has seen a 129 percent increase in the number of child migrants arriving illegally from other countries.
President Obama has asked Congress for $3.7 billion in emergency funds to confront the surge of child migrants, and met with Texas Governor Rick Perry to discuss the border crisis.
Last week, officials from the U.S., Mexico and Central American nations met in Nicaragua to discuss the possibility of considering migrants fleeing from violence in their home countries as refugees. Such a designation would obligate the U.S. and other countries to adapt their current practices for processing and often deporting these migrants.
Also last week, the presidents of Mexico and Guatemala also signed an agreement that will make it safer and legal for Guatemalans passing through Mexico en route to the U.S. However, the accord says nothing about the fact that these migrants would still be crossing into the U.S. illegally.