We can’t politicize the lives of children

This week, three committees in the House are holding hearings on the humanitarian crisis caused by a surge in the number of unaccompanied minors arriving at our borders. The lives of vulnerable children are at stake, which makes this a moral issue. That alone should compel elected officials of both parties to set aside partisan differences in order to come to workable solutions.

The way forward won’t be easy. We can all agree that reasons for the surge are complex and not entirely in our control. Rampant violence in places like Honduras forces families to take desperate measures to get their children out of harm’s way. And greedy smugglers tell lies to those families about U.S. border policies in order to profit from their desperation.

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Despicable, we can all agree. But pouring billions into reinforced walls will not convince frightened parents they shouldn’t help their children find safety. There will always be ways to move around walls or cut through them.

Perfectly “secure borders” are not possible, and it is not the borders that need security anyway. It is far more important to ensure that the children are secure, out of harm’s way.

I have met with weeping parents and frightened children as I traveled across this nation and abroad. I want Congress to understand that they are people, not “aliens,” as some who wish to dehumanize them would like us to believe. As the children of God, they deserve our compassion and care.

Let’s also be clear that pushing for immigration reform did not cause the current crisis, but fixing our broken system would go a long way toward shutting down the smugglers and their rumor mill, helping to end the exploitation of the children, and addressing many other critical issues. We must now stop the partisan bickering and enact long-overdue comprehensive immigration reform.

If Congress lacks the political courage to take this needed step right away, the very least it can do is take immediate action to ensure that children reaching our borders are not endangered, left to fend for themselves and vulnerable to violence and exploitation. We need to find places for them to live in safety while lawyers and advocates help determine what should be done in their individual situations.

Beyond that, we need Congress to support programs that address human trafficking, violence and economic injustice that push people out of their homelands into the U.S. We also need to help other nations successfully reintegrate their citizens once they return from the U.S. And we need to make sure that people in other countries understand the truth about U.S. immigration policies so they won’t hand over their precious children and all their money to smugglers.

Our elected officials must prove to all of us that they are able and willing to come together in a bipartisan manner to address a crisis that poses immediate dangers to vulnerable children and our nation as a whole. We must demand no less.

Campbell is the executive director of NETWORK, A national Catholic social justice lobby, and author of A Nun on the Bus: How All of Us Can Create Hope, Change, and Community.