“Who are you with?” asked Raul L. Ortiz, deputy chief of the Border Patrol for the Rio Grande Valley, speaking in Spanish.
“By myself,” Alejandro said, looking up at the man in the olive uniform and pulling a birth certificate, carefully folded, from his jeans — the only item he carried.
“Where are your parents, Alex?” Chief Ortiz asked, using a nickname to put the boy at ease.
“In San Antonio,” he said.
But the child had no address for his family in the Texas city 250 miles to the north, or for an aunt in Maryland, which he thought was just as close. The agents gave him water and the boy smiled gratefully, not knowing that his journey, already three weeks long, would likely be a lot longer.
“Snakes and Thorny Brush, and Children at the Border Alone,” Julia Preston, The New York Times, June 25, 2014.
This week in D.C., Catholic Charities USA, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services, and the Catholic Legal Immigration Network hosted our quadrennial National Migration Conference. Our motto for the conference was In Faith, In Solidarity, In Service, demonstrating our commitment to walk alongside our brothers and sisters in need.
It was, by turns, an exhausting and invigorating week – exhausting, because we are tired of fighting legislative obstinacy blocking common-sense immigration reform proposals that the majority of Americans support. But it was also invigorating, because hearing the stories of those who come to us for aid, and seeing the faces of those who commit their lives helping newcomers achieve a fresh start, is energizing in an intense and powerful way.
On Sunday night, we heard from the President of Caritas Internationalis, Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Cardinal Rodríguez reminded us of our call as people of faith to welcome the stranger and shelter the homeless. We know from words and actions that the issues facing immigrants and refugees are close to the heart of our Holy Father, Pope Francis – after all, his first Mass outside the Vatican as Pope was on an island known for the desperate journeys undertaken by those seeking more promising shores.
Catholic Charities agencies are stretching their capacity to respond to and serve the people – often children and teenagers, as we see in the story above – who are found in the desert with nothing but the clothes on their back. But responding to their immediate needs does not solve the problem. We need a solution that stems the influx of unaccompanied minors and provides a pathway forward for those eager to prove themselves hard-working, law-abiding citizens.
Regardless of the status of immigration reform as a whole, which inflames passion on both sides of the issue, we should be able to come together as a nation and agree that these children and teenagers should be treated with compassion and respect, and given the opportunity to flourish. As I heard a number of people remark in the halls of the conference: “Don’t forget – Jesus himself was a refugee.” What would it say about us as a nation were we to shut the doors of opportunity and hope to those seeking a better life, especially to children like Alejandro?