Pope Francis confronted the "racist and xenophobic attitudes" that often face undocumented immigrants by addressing the thousands of unaccompanied children included in their ranks.
In a message delivered to the Mexico-Holy See Colloquium on Migration and Development on Monday, the pope drew attention to these migrant children who he said often undertake the dangerous border crossing alone in order to escape violence in their home countries:
"This humanitarian emergency requires, as a first urgent measure, these children be welcomed and protected. These measures, however, will not be sufficient, unless they are accompanied by policies that inform people about the dangers of such a journey and, above all, that promote development in their countries of origin."
Pope Francis noted the urgency of this predicament, saying that the numbers of migrant children "are increasing day by day." U.S. Customs and Border Protection reports that more than 50,000 unaccompanied migrant children have crossed the Southwest border so far in 2014.
While Pope Francis delivered his message, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin spoke at Mexico's Foreign Relations Secretariat and urged clergy and foreign ministers to protect young migrants.
"Whether they travel for reasons of poverty, violence or the hope of uniting with families on the other side of the border," Parolin said, "it is urgent to protect and assist them, because their frailty is greater and they're defenseless, they're at the mercy of any abuse or misfortune."
The cardinal reiterated the Vatican's support for this cause, saying, "The church will always support at the national and international level any initiative directed at the adoption of correct policies."
Outside of the church, though, the pope also called for the international community to take steps toward finding a humanitarian solution to the immigration crisis.
"This challenge demands the attention of the entire international community so that new forms of legal and secure migration may be adopted."
On Sunday Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Matthews Burwell met privately with dozens of governors of states that will host thousands of unaccompanied migrant children from Central America. The program, initiated by the Obama administration, will go into effect in October and aims to tackle the growing influx of child migrants.
"We want to make sure they're placed in a safe and supportive home or placement," Burwell said, "but also, it should be somebody that is legal and somebody that will be responsible to see that they show up for the hearing."
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