Migrant children crossing the border: the religion angle

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Amid the ongoing headlines – mostly political – over the thousands of migrant children crossing illegally into the United States, I’ve been pleased to come across some excellent reports on the religion angle.

New York Times national religion reporter Michael Paulson produced a thorough overview of U.S. religious leaders embracing the cause of immigrant children:

After protesters shouting “Go home” turned back busloads of immigrant mothers and children in Murrieta, Calif., a furious Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, the Roman Catholic archbishop of New York, sat down at his notepad and drafted a blog post detailing his shame at the episode, writing, “It was un-American; it was unbiblical; it was inhumane.”

When the governor of Iowa, Terry E. Branstad, said he did not want the migrants in his state, declaring, “We can’t accept every child in the world who has problems,” clergy members in Des Moines held a prayer vigil at a United Methodist Church to demonstrate their desire to make room for the refugees.

The United States’ response to the arrival of tens of thousands of migrant children, many of them fleeing violence and exploitation in Central America, has been symbolized by an angry pushback from citizens and local officials who have channeled their outrage over illegal immigration into opposition to proposed shelter sites. But around the nation, an array of religious leaders are trying to mobilize support for the children, saying the nation can and should welcome them.

“We’re talking about whether we’re going to stand at the border and tell children who are fleeing a burning building to go back inside,” said Rabbi Asher Knight of Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, who said leaders of more than 100 faith organizations in his city had met last week to discuss how to help. He said that in his own congregation, some were comparing the flow of immigrant children to the Kindertransport, a rescue mission in the late 1930s that sent Jewish children from Nazi Germany to Britain for safekeeping.

From there, Paulson notes the broad spectrum of religious leaders — from left to right — speaking out:

The backlash to the backlash is broad, from Unitarian Universalists and Quakers to evangelical Protestants. Among the most agitated are Catholic bishops, who have long allied with Republican politicians against abortion and same-sex marriage, and leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, whose adherents tend to lean right.

The NYTimes piece links to other recent stories, including a Chicago Tribune report on the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago seeking to house child refugees, a Boston Globe report on Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts tearfully citing the Bible in suggesting that migrant children could be temporarily housed at military bases in his state and a Dallas Morning News report on Catholic bishops in Dallas and Fort Worth calling for lawyers to represent the children at immigration proceedings.

The Dallas Morning News featured a front-page story Sunday on religious groups rallying to help the migrant children:

Piles of Superman underwear sit among the pyramids of protein formula in the atrium of the First United Methodist Church of Dallas. Soon, the stash will be trucked to South Texas to help with relief efforts for the influx of children and teenagers from Central America.

Down the street on Ross Avenue, welcome boxes sit in an office of the Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe. So many people called the church wanting to help that a parishioner organized a welcome-box drive. She asked for toiletries, a small toy and a handwritten note.

“Esperamos que te guste el juguete! Con cariño, tus amigos en Dallas.” We hope you like the toy, with affection, your Dallas friends, one reads.

Across North Texas, across political divides and theological differences, Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Jews and others in the local faith community are stepping up with assistance for the children who have crossed the border illegally without a parent. Congregations moved by the plight of the children are finding practical ways to help, even as governments and politicians argue and scramble over solutions.

“It’s a beautiful illustration of loving thy neighbor,” said the Rev. Linda Roby, an associate minister at First Methodist, patting packets of pajamas.

The Associated Press, meanwhile, distributed an Abilene Reporter-News story on a ministry helping at the border:

McALLEN— When the truck lurched, Danny Sims knew it wasn’t good.

In the rearview mirror he could see pieces from one of his trailer’s tires flying into the air. The car behind him swerved to avoid the trailer’s fender, taken out by the blown tire. The spiraling piece of tin mashed itself against an 18-wheeler’s grill farther back.

It was the first of two tires he would lose that night.

Sims pulled over. The trailer’s side, painted with the Global Samaritan Resources logo, was now also marked with black streaks.

Sims is the executive director for Global Samaritan Resources. The trailer he was towing carried a full load of cots, used clothing and baby supplies, all of it bound for the Harvey Drive Church of Christ in McAllen. Their final use would be determined by faith-based groups responding to the recent surge of Central Americans crossing the U.S.-Mexican border illegally.

What other coverage of the religion angle have you seen — good and bad? Please feel free to share links.

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • edtc

    Interesting that there is no criticism from the media about the church getting involved in politics here.

  • Darren Blair

    It was the first of two tires he would lose that night.

    Losing one tire in an evening is bad luck.

    Losing two raises some serious questions about how well the involved vehicle and trailer were maintained.

    • Mark Byron

      It could have also been badly maintained roads, although a failure to check the tire pressure on a trailer that might have been sitting for a while is high on the list of causes.

      • Darren Blair

        Even checking the tires themselves might have turned something up.

        My first job involved doing tire changes, and my current job involves a lot of driving. As you can imagine, I tend to be wary about certain things.

  • PalaceGuard

    Anyone hear anything new on the reports that priests and other religious are being denied access to the places where the children are being kept? I hope it’s not true, but I haven’t been able to confirm or deny.

  • DeaconJohnMBresnahan

    A lot of people clearly are convinced that the current administration is manipulating the border crisis. If this is so the worst part of this ploy is how it has roused people up against immigration. It seems Obama is determined for our country to have no boundaries no matter how much harm it does to people already here (like Black Americans in low paying “entry” jibs.)
    A second point. : Some people are damning the parents of children sent North by themselves. Not fair!
    According to books on Irish immigration I have read, desperate parents saw the “coffin ships” as the last hope for their children’s survival during The Famine–even if they had to send their kids on their own because passage was so expensive for themselves (based on the fact they had next to nothing to pay for passage for themselves.) Central America seems to be almost as bad (But is the media giving us the true story on this??? Or is it more doing Obama’s bidding????)
    Part of the problem is all the previous liyng by Obama and the media. Many trust little they say or report. Need I say–”You can keep your own doctor.”


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