As more kids migrate alone, the Church must speak up

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children migrate Georgetown panel
Unaccompanied minors who are migrants from Honduras sit on the riverbank in Roma, Texas, after crossing the Rio Grande July 9, 2021. (OSV News photo/Go Nakamura, Reuters)

WASHINGTON (OSV News) — The Catholic Church must remain firm in its advocacy for children who migrate alone, panelists for a webinar hosted by Georgetown University’s Collaborative on Global Children’s Issues said Jan. 24.

Ian Manzi, program assistant with the university collaborative, who moderated the panel, noted the “Christian faith began with a vulnerable child born to a displaced mother, facing a range of threats.”

“Since then, Christian communities have interacted with children and families in precarious situations,” Manzi said. “Catholic organizations have often been on the front line offering assistance to migrants and refugees all over the world.”

Manzi said there are “now more children on the move than ever before, fleeing violence, disasters and poverty, and seeking safety and protection within and across borders.”

More displaced kids

As of 2022, data from UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency, shows nearly 40% of the 110 million forcibly displaced persons worldwide were under the age of 18. Panelists said those numbers are only on the rise, making the Church’s advocacy for unaccompanied children that much more important.

A family from Ecuador walks toward Border Patrol officers in Eagle Pass, Texas, Dec. 19, 2022, to seek asylum in the U.S. (OSV News photo/Jordan Vonderhaar, Reuters)

Msgr. Robert J. Vitillo, secretary-general of the International Catholic Migration Commission, also spoke of the Holy Family’s vulnerability, referencing Matthew’s Gospel account where Joseph and Mary flee to Roman Egypt with the infant Jesus to save him from King Herod’s ordered killing of all male children 2 years old and under within the vicinity of Bethlehem, which was part of the kingdom of Judea.

Msgr. Vitillo argued the Church is called to serve those in similar circumstances, and that Jesus showed the Church how to treat “refugees and the migrants and the marginalized people.”

“He gave us the example as well as his preaching,” he said, adding, “Jesus then showed us how to care for other people with their vulnerabilities, but he also saw the potential in the people and the strength that they have.”

‘A rise in xenophobia’

Hille Haker, an ethicist at Loyola University Chicago and editor of “Unaccompanied Migrant Children: Social, Legal, and Ethical Perspectives,” said she is concerned about “a rise in xenophobia that we have not seen in decades” in the European Union and the U.S.

“I think that the Catholic Church needs to speak up much, much more,” Haker said, adding it is “a task of Christians to be prophetic voices,” particularly for those who cannot speak or would not be heard otherwise.

“There is really, I believe, an urgency right now,” she said, acknowledging that “there will always be this tension between migration rights and border policies that can be dealt with.”

Kate Scanlon

Kate Scanlon is a national reporter for OSV News covering Washington.