By Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño of The United Methodist Church in Los Angeles, and Bishop J. Jon Bruno, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles and President of the Los Angeles Council of Religious Leaders
Last week, we, alongside Dr. Robert K. Ross, President and CEO of the California Endowment and Fred Ali of Weingart Foundation, visited some of the hundreds of children temporarily being housed at the Port Hueneme Naval Base. The stories of these children, the dangerous conditions under which they were forced to leave their homes, and their arduous journeys to travel to the United States touched us all. These children are just a few among the 52,000 children from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras who are currently being held in a variety of temporary shelters.
The ongoing and highly politicized public debate about immigration has quickly and incorrectly come to engulf this latest humanitarian situation. The fact that these are young, frightened children who have risked their lives and fled extreme violence to come here, often on their own, has been forgotten. This is in fact an international emergency that calls upon all of us to put the health and well-being of these children before any political grandstanding.
Like so many of our own ancestors, these children are fleeing incredible social crises, which have inspired them to make the difficult choice to leave home solely in hopes of survival. Currently, many Central American nations are struggling with extreme violence connected to drug trafficking and gangs. As we learned in a recent Reuters article, a young immigrant named Jeffrey fled his home of La Ceiba, Honduras because a local gang charged him the equivalent of $24,000 not to kill him. Like Jeffrey, many children are sent away from their homes and families to avoid being drafted into local gangs and cartels with the certain future of incarceration or death. In response, desperate parents with few alternatives have opted to send their unaccompanied children north in hopes of their finding refuge in the United States. But, instead of finding safe harbor, tens of thousands of children, have struggled on long journeys fleeing danger only to get caught in a political limbo while our nation tarries over their fates.
The status of these children poses a humanitarian dilemma. As children await a possible future of deportation, violence and possibly death, it is time for us to cast aside partisan differences and seek solutions to ensure their long-term health and safety. We can choose to use this moment to find the best in ourselves and have compassion for these children. If people from every faith and every community work together, we can live up to our shared values and take care of the most vulnerable among us. As we met these children, we learned that they are children of prayer, prayers that sustain them and give them hope.
We all know that where a child is born shouldn't determine how long she lives, but it does. However, we must remember that under God, there is a universal citizenship -- a status that makes us all equal under His eyes and worthy of love, dignity and respect, regardless of what side of the man-made border you are from. All children have basic human rights, no matter what they look like or where they come from. From universal citizenship springs unconditional love that goes beyond skin color, language and race. Around the world families desire for their children to be safe, content and healthy and if they are not able to provide such privileges, the most desperate go as far as sending their children to distant shores. As communities of faith and philanthropy, we have a responsibility to step up during this time of massive suffering among innocent children. If we don't help the children in our society, the most defenseless among us, who will?
Moved to take action? Join in the Interfaith Weekend of Compassion and Prayer for Unaccompanied Minor Children (July, 18-20, 2014)