Are we our brother’s keeper?

That ancient question haunts us today in the United States.

The recent arrival of unattended minors as well as mothers with children, mostly from Central America, startled us and presented us with overwhelming challenges about what we can do to respond as individuals or as a nation to this situation.

Some call the influx of people an “invasion” that must be stopped. Some blame lax enforcement policies. Some fear our borders are too porous and contend that the area must be secured.

The reality is that many people in Central America live in wretched conditions of hopeless poverty and extreme violence. A parent will do anything to protect a child and to assure him or her of a future, even if that means sending the child alone to travel a dangerous path to another country.

The Catholic Church does not call for open borders. The church recognizes that countries have the responsibility to defend against criminal elements operating along its borders. So too, the church knows that good people fleeing the desperate situations in their homelands are coming across the same borders looking for new lives.

As a nation, we are called to be our brother’s keeper. Countries such as Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan have welcomed thousands of Syrian and Iraqi refugees fleeing civil war across their borders, even at great cost to their own country’s economies. They have provided shelter and aid to people in need. Can our great nation do anything less for people in a flight for a better life?

Some would say we ought focus on our own residents living in poverty rather than open our doors to others. Of course we must strive to end poverty at home and strive to assure the dignity of every human being. But when we come face to face with the desperate conditions of others from outside of our country, we cannot limit or restrict our concern and efforts to help.

We are called to be our brother’s keeper, and it is happening. Just look at how governmental agencies such as the Border Patrol here in Arizona — an agency charged with enforcement — have become caregivers for children and their families, rushing to help and to keep them safe. They did not lose sight of the human beings they are dealing with amid their efforts to defend our borders. Their work represents America at its best.

Just look at the outpouring of concern for these unaccompanied minors and mothers and their children shown by city and county officials, faith-based groups and nongovernmental organizations within our Tucson community. Even the employees of the Tucson Greyhound station dealt quickly and tenderly with hundreds who came to the station on their way to relatives in this country. These agencies and organizations stepped up to provide humanitarian aid and transitional housing. They volunteered countless hours to show compassion and concern to those now at our doorstep. Their work and caring is America at its best.

Deep in our hearts, Americans know that we are our brother’s keeper and we come forward to help.

News of protests against such help has been broadcast and published, but we also need to know that far more residents in the area near the protests showed up in support of helping these people in need. Catholic Community Services has received more than $17,000 in cash and has filled several storerooms with donated clothing and items. In Oracle, a group of people from all faiths and backgrounds started a “Have a Heart” campaign, a group committed to extending a welcome to refugee children with humanitarian assistance. Additional efforts aimed at providing spiritual guidance and some language aid to the children also are taking place.

The influx of women and children and unaccompanied minors presents our country and our community with an opportunity to display the compassion and concern that lies in the hearts of most Americans. We know it is our responsibility to be our brother’s keeper, to have a heart.

The Most Rev. Gerald F. Kicanas is bishop of the Diocese of Tucson. Email him at