“This is a humanitarian crisis.”
This statement has pervaded recent news stories as the influx of tens of thousands of immigrant children into the US has made daily headlines. The situation has resurrected the debate on immigration reform, but this particular debate is different because the lives and well-being of children are at stake.
While debates about how the government should respond to this crisis take up much of the current news, not much is being said about the role religious organizations can play. If this really is a humanitarian crisis, then humans, rather than institutions such as the government, should be some of the first responders. It’s hard to imagine how those children are feeling as they sit in detention centers. While churches may not be able to quickly fix these children’s long-term legal dilemmas, they can certainly provide immediate companionship and tangible comfort to them. In San Antonio, several churches of different denominations are coordinating efforts with the government to provide assistance, physical and emotional, to the immigrant children detained in that city.
Humanitarian crises are an opportunity for the church to rise up and respond to the call to care for vulnerable children. Deuteronomy 10:18 (NLT) says God “ensures that orphans and widows receive justice. He shows love to the foreigners living among you and gives them food and clothing.” The presence of thousands of lonely, foreign children in our neighborhoods gives us a chance to truly live out this verse and bring God’s healing love to children and foreigners in a heartbreaking situation.
This doesn’t mean, however, that the government lacks a significant role in addressing the current situation. While a crisis requires a quick response, the conversation about comprehensive immigration reform must continue to address the root causes of this issue. One of the underlying problems is why the children are coming here in the first place. One commentator has suggested the influx of children is due to corrupt foreigners lying to people in their country about American immigration policies and making a profit from these lies. Many others have stated these children are fleeing the violence that runs rampant in their countries.
An appropriate response to this crisis includes addressing the violence that causes security issues for children in Latin America. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) can wisely use its resources to address the immigration crisis today. Hopefully, President Obama will carry out a recently released plan that includes working with USAID programs to fund security and violence prevention programs in Latin America. Unless these fundamental issues of violence and poverty in Latin America are addressed, responding to the current crisis only puts a band-aid on a gaping wound.
There is no easy answer to this immigration problem, but there should be an easy answer about how to treat these children. Moreover, churches should find the decision to provide food, comfort, and support to the children an easy task to undertake. At the same time, the correct response is not to use this crisis as more proof that the government is incompetent and politics are useless. The political process is fundamental to our functioning as a society, but it cannot provide the personal compassion and grace the church can. We must encourage both the church and the government to approach this problem with compassion and justice, while recognizing that both entities are necessary to its solution.
-Cristina Squiers graduated from Princeton University with a degree in Anthropology and a certificate in Values and Public Life. She completed a fellowship in Philadelphia to start a mentoring program for those aging out of foster care. Cristina is now a first year student at SMU Dedman School of Law.