Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds says our state does not have the facilities to house migrant children overwhelming the U.S. southern border and rejected a request from the Biden Administration to help.
“This is not our problem; this is the president’s problem,” she told Jeff Angelo in an April 8 interview on NEWSRADIO 1040 WHO. “He’s the one who opened the borders. He needs to be responsible for this and he needs to stop it.” How would our Risen Lord respond to Gov. Reynolds? How should we, his followers, respond?
First, reflect on these paragraphs from the April 1 joint statement of the bishops along the border of the United States and Northern Mexico:
“We maintain that family unity must be a vital component of any response. We ask that special attention be given to particularly vulnerable populations, such as children. We strongly urge that structures be put in place and reforms in our laws be made to both promote a welcoming culture for our sisters and brothers and respect the sovereignty and safety of our countries.”
“We pledge our support to continue helping our respective governments’ efforts to protect and care for families, as well as individuals who feel compelled to migrate. To accomplish this we commit to the ongoing work of Catholic organizations at the border and elsewhere, which are generously tended to by lay people, consecrated persons, and the clergy.”
In his 1993 World Day of Migration message, Pope John Paul II said highly developed countries are not always able to assimilate those who emigrate. However, “the criterion for the level that can be sustained cannot be solely based on protecting their own prosperity while failing to take into consideration the needs of persons who are tragically forced to ask for hospitality.”
Hospitality is not covering children with blankets that look like aluminum foil as they doze off for the night in detention centers at the border. Hospitality is not rejecting a request to provide shelter in Iowa because we do not have room. Hospitality, as we know from Scripture, is about making room.
Before we judge families that allow children to cross the border alone, we need to understand the facts about migration, provided by sources such as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Justice for Immigrants website (usccb.org/offices/migration-policy/justice-immigrants) and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (cbp.gov) website.
“The number of encounters at the border has been rising since April 2020 due to reasons which include violence, natural disasters, food insecurity, and poverty in Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries of Central America,” the CBP reported April 8.
More than 172,000 persons attempted entry along the Southwest border in March, a 71 percent increase over February. Factcheck.org, citing immigration experts in a Washington Post article, reported, “the current increase in apprehensions fits a predictable pattern of seasonal changes in undocumented immigration combined with a backlog of demand because of 2020’s coronavirus border closure.”
Single adults represent the majority of immigrants attempting to cross the Southwest border. The CBP continues to expel single adults and family units but not children. Nearly 19,000 unaccompanied children from Central America showed up at the Southwest border in March 2021, a 100 percent increase over February. “Although less than 11 percent of encounters in March were unaccompanied children, they make up the largest demographic group of individuals in custody at CBP facilities.”
The Biden Administration is accepting children at the border because “we feel it is not humane to send these kids back on their treacherous journey,” Press Secretary Jen Psaki said during the April 9 press briefing. “Our focus is on addressing the needs, opening up the shelters, ensuring there is access to health and education resources, expediting processing at the border.”
Greater collaboration and cooperation at the local, state and federal level is essential to get these kids into safe, welcoming homes. David Goodner and Emily Sinnwell, co-founders of the Iowa City Catholic Worker, are assisting four families with unaccompanied relatives stuck on the border. One of the unaccompanied minors, a 16-year-old Guatemalan named Lidia, has been sent to a Pennsylvania detention center, to the dismay of her older sister, Juana Cuyuch Brito. She has submitted four sets of paperwork in an attempt to bring her sibling to Iowa City, Goodner said.
Expediting the process at the border also requires reducing bureaucracy.
In 1975, Iowa demonstrated hospitality and humanity when Iowa Gov. Robert Ray accepted President Ford’s call to help resettle Southeast Asian refugees. Gov. Ray said, “Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you” (Iowa PBS – Iowa Pathways). These refugees and their children have significantly enriched Iowa, our diocese and our parishes.
Remind Gov. Reynolds of that legacy and ask her to commit to working with nonprofits and church groups in Iowa to provide welcoming, safe homes for immigrant children and to reunite families already living here. Visit the website governor.iowa.gov; send a letter to Office of the Governor, State Capitol, 1007 East Grand Ave., Des Moines, Iowa, 50319; or call (515) 281-5211.
Support organizations such as the Iowa City Catholic Worker (iowacitycatholicworker.org); the Diocese of Davenport’s Immigration Office (davenportdiocese.org/immigration-program); and the Iowa Migrant Movement for Justice (www.iowammj.org). Other worthy organizations to support: the Kino Border Initiative (kinoborderinitiative.org), which seeks humane, just workable migration between the U.S. and Mexico; and Catholic Charities (catholiccharitiesusa.org).
Contact members of Congress (congress.gov) and insist that they work together to pass a fair and compassionate immigration bill.
Gov. Reynolds says the problem at the border is not our problem. In the Book of Genesis, Cain infamously asks God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” For people of faith, the answer is a resounding “Yes.”
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor