Pope Francis has called for ‘urgent intervention’ to welcome and protect minors traveling on their own from Central and South America to the United States in increasing numbers.
The pontiff said today that such measures should include an information campaign on the dangers of the journey.
He called on the international community to rise to the challenge and adopt ‘new forms of legal and safe migration.’
Tens of thousands of children have streamed from chaotic Central American nations in recent months to the U.S. border, overwhelming the government’s ability to respond.
Francis issued his message in a letter to a Vatican conference on migration in Mexico, drawing attention to the ‘tens of thousands of children who are emigrating alone, unaccompanied, to flee poverty and violence.’
The Pope’s comments came after the U.S. deported Honduran children as young as 1-1/2 years old on Monday in the first flight since President Obama pledged to speed up the process of sending back illegal immigrant minors from Central America.
Fleeing violence and poverty, record numbers of children from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala have crossed into the United States over the past year, sparking intense debate about how to solve the problem.
Women and their children walk on the tarmac after being deported from the U.S., at the Ramon Villeda international airport in San Pedro Sula on Monday
Monday’s flight from New Mexico to San Pedro Sula, the city with the highest murder rate in the world, returned 17 Honduran women, as well as 12 girls and nine boys, aged between 18 months and 15 years.
The Hondurans were from among a group of immigrants who’ve been housed at an Artesia, New Mexico emergency detention facility opened as other centers became completely overwhelmed.
The Artesia Center was opened in barracks of the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center. It eventually will hold about 700 women and children.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson visited the facility in a visit that seemed crafted to show detainees that America is not the welcoming place they may have thought.
‘Our border is not open to illegal immigration,’ he said. ‘Our message to those who come illegally is we will send you back.’