National Council of Churches joins religious and human rights groups to call on Congress to protect fleeing children at the U.S. border

Washington, July 24, 2014 – A wide coalition of Protestant, Catholic, Evangelical, Jewish, and human rights and development groups called on Congress yesterday to address the humanitarian crisis of tens of thousands of children from Central America who have been apprehended and detained at the U.S. border.

The letter appeared in a full page ad in the Wednesday edition of THE HILL.

Faith groups have shown near unanimity in calling on President Obama and the Congress to protect children crossing into the U.S.

“The humanitarian crisis of unaccompanied children and families from Central America who have been apprehended and detained at the U.S. border has shined a glaring light on the violence, poverty and extreme desperation that the people living in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras confront daily,” said more than 40 human rights and faith groups, including the National Council of Churches.

“In addressing the humanitarian crisis, we urge Congress to pursue an approach that attends to the immediate emergency needs of the children and families at the border while providing adequate resources to address the underlying conditions which are driving them to flee from Central America,” the message said.

“Many of these children and families are fleeing desperate situations,” the message said. “While some from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala migrate north in the pursuit of work and economic opportunity, many others understand their options to be either ‘flee or die’ and have come to our country with the hope of escaping violence, intimidation, corrupt police, forced recruitment into street gangs and other criminal groups.”

The message urged Congress “to support programs that address the underlying drivers of their flight–violence and poverty in Central America. Any sustainable strategy to address the humanitarian crisis on our border must account for the chronic challenges in Central America that imperil the ability of people to live safe and prosperous lives in their home country.”

United States Customs and Border Protection agents have apprehended more that 46,000 unaccompanied children since last October. The stream of children from violent and poverty-stricken areas of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador may exceed 90,000 this year.

An internet link has been established to enable persons to sign on to the statement that has been prepared by the Interfaith Immigration Coalition: http://interfaithimmigration.org/uac-sign-on.

Jim Winkler, National Council of Churches president and general secretary, said the NCC “has consistently called for comprehensive reforms in U.S. immigrations policies. But we believe this is a humanitarian issue involving refugees who are being forced out of their homelands by the imminent threat of violence and killing poverty.”

Pope Francis has used unusually strong words to call for protection of the children.

“Many of their rights are violated, they are obliged to separate from their families and, unfortunately, continue to be the subject of racist and xenophobic attitudes,” the pontiff said in a message to a global conference meeting in Mexico.

The Baptist World Alliance, meeting in Ismir, Turkey last week, challenged the churches in the region “to practice hospitality and charity as they regard each minor as neighbor and child of God.”

“This is a regional humanitarian crisis, not a U.S. immigration enforcement problem,” religious leaders have proclaimed.

The leaders called on the U.S. to “embrace its moral and legal obligations to asylum seekers … who have arrived at our birders seeking protection. A policy of ‘sealing’ borders and housing vulnerable people in jail-like conditions will not dissuade people who are fleeing for their lives and seeking safety.”

Instead, the leaders said, such policies “risk driving desperate people into more dangerous circumstances and inflicting more pain upon those already suffering.”

Winkler said the NCC is calling on congregations to press the point with the U.S. government.

“God willing, we can show our elected officials that hundreds of faith groups across the country demand a moral approach to this humanitarian crisis,” Winkler said.

The full text of the Central American migration crisis faith letter can be downloaded here.

The full text of the Baptist World Alliance resolution on the humanitarian crisis can be found here.

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Since its founding in 1950, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA has been the leading force for shared ecumenical witness among Christians in the United States. The NCC's 37 member communions -- from a wide spectrum of Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, Evangelical, historic African American and Living Peace churches -- include 45 million persons in more than 100,000 local congregations in communities across the nation.

NCC News contact:  Philip E. Jenks, 646-853-4212 (cell), cruzandjenks@gmail.com