It was horrifying to watch a crowd in Murrieta, California, turn away a bus full of moms and their children, some of them infants, who were being transferred there by an overwhelmed Department of Homeland Security last week.
Thankfully, in Tucson, social service and community groups have stepped in to provide comfort and aid to the undocumented women and children, mostly from Central America, being brought here. But quick action by our government is required to address this growing refugee crisis.
YWCAs across the country advocate for a common-sense immigration process that keeps families together here in the U.S., provides adequate protections for immigration victims of sexual violence and trafficking, and creates a road map for citizenship. It is frustrating that Congress has been unable to act. However, in response to the current crisis, President Obama has pledged to enact reform. We urge all Tucsonans to ask the president and our elected officials to do the right thing.
First, in regard to the Central American refugee crisis, our government must treat the people seeking asylum from violence and extreme poverty as refugees; coordinate and provide humanitarian aid and assistance for these individuals; ensure due process — including sufficient time and resources to make an asylum claim in accord with international refugee law; and require transparency from all engaged government agencies.
Some facts about the undocumented children traveling alone are especially alarming. DHS is reporting these children are primarily arriving from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. They are fleeing growing violence in these countries. Families are seeking refuge for their children in the United States as well as other countries. Undocumented children in Arizona are being housed in a detention facility in Nogales where they are often separated from siblings and are awaiting hearings on their fate.
Kevin Appleby, migration policy director for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told CBS News, “Many of these children have valid asylum claims because they are targeted by organized crime networks in Central America.
“What the administration is proposing is that the process for adjudicating those claims be shortened, without the benefit of an immigration judge or legal representation. This will severely reduce a child’s chances of receiving U.S. protection. It is akin to sending a child back into a burning building and locking the door.”
Similarly, the undocumented women and their children who are being arrested at the border and bused to Tucson where they are deposited at the Greyhound Bus Depot are seeking refuge from violence and extreme poverty. They must try to find a family member in the U.S. who will take them in until their deportation hearings.
Their needs are great: money for bus tickets to another destination, clothing and food for their children and housing while they wait for the next bus that will take them where they need to be for their hearings.
Casa Mariposa and other nonprofits have been helping, but they are overwhelmed. So the city of Tucson, along with agencies such as Catholic Community Services and the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona are coordinating to provide temporary assistance. This is admirable but it is not enough. The federal government must take the lead.
Second, we urge the president and our elected officials to address the larger issue of immigration reform now, focusing on creating a legal path to citizenship, making family reunification a top priority, expediting the process for Dreamers to become citizens, and protecting the rights and working conditions of all workers.