Bishop Michael Rinehart of the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America recently visited a facility temporarily housing unaccompanied children on the border between Mexico and the United States. He helps bust some of the myths surrounding this crisis and shares the stories of a few of the children who made a courageous journey in search of safety.
“It was either this or be murdered,” Javier was one of nearly 100 kids in the cafeteria of the transitional facility I visited this week.
Violence in Central America is on the rise. Poverty leads to desperate measures. Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world.
Attorney Jennifer K. Harbury explained the situation. She is a first generation Jew, the daughter of a man who came to the United States to rebuild a shattered life. Fortunately, her father’s boat was not turned away…when European Jews were seeking asylum. After the Holocaust, the United States promised, never again will we turn away asylum seekers.
Harbury housed a refugee from Honduras. At 13, the gangs told this refugee he had to join or be murdered. He refused and they beat him nearly to death. A year later they came back again with the same demand. After refusing they ran him over with a car. His mother gave him $30 and told him to go north.
Hitchhiking on trains, he made it to Mexico, where he was kidnapped and held for ransom. Escaping, he crossed the river and was picked up by US Border Patrol. He was treated poorly in a harsh detention facility until the local sheriff stepped in. In time, he was settled with a foster family, but after a month he was picked up by immigration. Harbury met him through a glass window in jail, fighting to bring him home.
Look into the their eyes. These are not cartels smuggling drugs across the border. These are children seeking asylum. They have been battered and mistreated. When a ten-year-old shows up at the border seeking safety, at the very least they need the representation of a lawyer who knows the law to watch out for him.
The Gospel tells us that Jesus was once a refugee. He and his family crossed the border into Egypt fleeing for life under the threat of violence by Herod.
Jesus welcomed children into his arms when the disciples wanted to turn them away. He said, “Whatsoever you do to the least of these, you do unto me.” And, “When I was a stranger you welcomed me.” He told stories like the Parable of the Good Samaritan, in which a victim is shown kindness by a stranger, and neglected by those who should be caregivers.
The Christian community has a special calling to welcome strangers and care for the poor. I saw the church in action on this visit. The Lutheran Social Services transitional facility and foster care program we visited was outstanding. People down here seem to understand the problem better than the mainstream media.
Is there room in the inn? I believe so. Our current system for handling children refugees at the border is actually pretty good. It’s just over-taxed with the recent influx. The challenge now is this recent surge, caused by and escalation of violence and poverty in Central America.
Here are 6 ways you can help:
Pray – Individually and together as a church.
Learn – Read as much as you can. Get the facts at lirs.org/bordercrisis
Foster – Learn more about how you can Give the Gift of Family.
Welcome – Provide a House of Welcome.
Visit – You can visit the border to understand the situation better.
To read Bishop Rinehart’s full report, please visit blog.lirs.org/it-was-either-this-or-be-murdered/