The ongoing and profoundly painful crisis at the southern border of the United States has long been a threat to families and to the dignity of our Central American sisters and brothers. Every family and child arriving at the border brings with them an agonizing choice that they will carry for the rest of their lives. Their suffering, broadcast to the world, engenders in us a provocative reminder of our God-given commandment to love.
Pope Francis, in his April writing Gaudete et Exsultate, made clear that there is a calling for Christians, “…for whom the only proper attitude is to stand in the shoes of those brothers and sisters of ours who risk their lives to offer a future to their children. Can we not realize that this is exactly what Jesus demands of us, when he tells us that in welcoming the stranger we welcome him?”
If we live in the great and deep faith of the Church, we are bound by God to welcome His Son in the form of a stranger. We are called, undeniably, to witness that faith and live the Gospel by being a people who, with grace and with recognition of every person’s individual dignity, offer respite for the afflicted.
This is not solely the challenge of those cities and states at the Mexican border. Maryland is No. 6 in states with the highest population of undocumented immigrants, following California, Florida, Texas, New York and New Jersey. Truly, we in the Archdiocese of Baltimore cannot deny our role in the lives of these individuals.
As you may have seen in recent news coverage, Catholic Charities’ Esperanza Center cares for immigrants daily. Most of the immigrants it has served have come to the U.S. for safety reasons, fleeing gang and other violence in their home countries. Through its six programs—educational services; health services; immigration legal services; family reunification programs; client services; and anti-trafficking services—it served more than 11,000 individuals in 2017, and expects to serve at least that many each year in the years to come.
Flight from danger is an especially prevalent cause for unaccompanied minors, who have made up more than 210,000 of the immigrants at the southern border since 2013. These children do not receive an attorney to represent them in immigration court. In Maryland, when contacted, the attorneys at Esperanza Center’s Immigration Legal Services program provide these services to those young people and their family members at low or no cost.
The Esperanza Center also reunites unaccompanied minors with family, locating proper relatives or legal guardians for hundreds of youth per year since it began these services five years ago. The youngest unaccompanied minor the Esperanza Center has served was only 5 years old.
The Holy See shared via Twitter on World Refugee Day, June 20, “A person’s dignity does not depend on them being a citizen, a migrant, or a refugee. Saving the life of someone fleeing war and poverty is an act of humanity.” May we all live that message in our hearts and in the ways we reach out to our neighbors of every nation, and may we pray that all other Americans be moved to do the same.
Most Reverend William E. Lori
Archbishop of Baltimore
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