Bishop on Influx of Unaccompanied Illegal Minors: ‘Violence Is the Straw That Stirs the Drink’

Melanie Arter | June 26, 2014 | 4:14pm EDT
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Illegal immigrants prepare to enter a bus after being processed at Tucson Sector U.S. Border Patrol Headquarters. (AP Photo)

( – The bishop of a diocese on the U.S.-Mexico border told the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday that the rise in violence against children, specifically by drug cartels, is to blame for the recent influx of unaccompanied illegal minors into the United States.

“In our view Mr. Chairman, the current challenge we are facing is driven primarily by factors in central America and Mexico – most specifically, the rise of violence against children, fomented by organized criminal networks, including drug cartels. They act with impunity, threatening families and coercing children and youth to join their membership or face violence or even death,” said Rev. Mark Seitz, bishop of the Diocese of El Paso, Texas.

“While there are a variety of ongoing push factors, Mr. Chairman, including poverty and family reunification, violence is the straw that stirs the drink. Otherwise, it is unlikely we would see such large numbers of unaccompanied children on our doorstep,” said Seitz.

In a statement about the hearing, Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) blamed the uptick in illegals coming from Central America on the president’s “lax immigration enforcement policies.”

“President Obama’s refusal to enforce our immigration laws has resulted in a crisis of his own making along our southern border. Word has spread around the world about the Obama Administration’s lax immigration enforcement policies and it has encouraged thousands of children, teenagers, and families from Central America to come to the United States illegally,” Goodlatte said.

“This surge shows no signs of stopping and could potentially get worse if President Obama further dismantles more of our immigration laws in August. At this week’s hearing, we will hear from those who are witnessing the disastrous effects of the President’s policies firsthand and will also demand answers from officials at the Department of Homeland Security on how they plan to quell this activity,” he added.

As previously reported, the U.S. has seen a dramatic increase in the number of unaccompanied illegal minors along the southwest border – a 99 percent increase from fiscal year 2013 to 2014, according to Customs and Border Protection.

Seitz said he has seen “the human consequences of the violence they have endured.”

Case in point, Seitz told the story of two teenage boys he met when he led a delegation of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops across the border to South America in November. The boys were being detained at a center for children in Tapachula, Mexico, after escaping the violence in their hometown of San Pedro Sula, Honduras.

“We met two boys aged 15 and 17 who were clean cut and respectful. They had recently arrived from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, a city with the highest murder rate in the world – higher than Kabul, Afghanistan or Damascus, Syria,” Seitz said.

“Organized crime members had attempted to recruit them and had told them that they and their families would be killed if they did not cooperate. The families quickly insisted they leave and flee to safety. Now as they waited for repatriation to Honduras, they told us they would not return to their home city, to what they felt was certain death. They would try again. Any risk they faced seemed like a better option than returning to their home,” he said.

This story is “typical,” Seitz said, adding that one parent he met at a repatriation center in El Salvador told him, “‘I would rather my child die on the journey seeking safety in the United States than on my front door step,’” Seitz recalled.

Seitz said as a bishop, his challenge was to “apply the gospel teaching of Jesus to present day situations.”

The U.S. Catholic bishops “support the right of our nation to control her borders and to enforce the rule of law,” he said. “Migration to our country should be orderly, safe, and controlled, consistent with the common good. This is why the U.S. bishops have supported the reform of our immigration system so that the rule of law can be restored in a humanitarian manner.”

In the meantime, Seitz called for the U.S. to place unaccompanied illegal children “expeditiously” in “child-friendly shelters and not warehouse in CBP border facilities.”

“Families should not be detained in restrictive settings, but placed in alternative community settings,” he said, adding that “legal proceedings should not be short-circuited and undermine due process.”

As reported, an ICE official testified that a majority – 87 percent – of unaccompanied illegal minors who were given a notice to appear before an immigration court judge in the past five years are still in proceedings.

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