On June 25, 2014, Bishop Mark Seitz of the Diocese of El Paso testified before the House Judiciary Committee about the plight of unaccompanied minors seeking safety from violence and drug trafficking in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Bishop Seitz told a largely unsympathetic House Committee of his personal experience listening to the stories of children and parents during a November 2013 delegation to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Children described visits by drug cartel members who threatened death if children resisted recruitment. One mother explained that she would rather have her children take a chance on the dangerous journey to the United States than die on her doorstep. Bishop Seitz noted the ever-accelerating surge in violence against children in Honduras – the monthly murder of children in Honduras leapt from 70 deaths a month to 102 in May 2014.
Bishop Seitz explained that poverty alone does not account for the increase in the number of unaccompanied minors coming to the U.S. from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. While neighboring Nicaragua is poorer than some of the sending countries, its own children are not traveling to the U.S. in significant numbers. Rather Nicaragua is receiving some of the children fleeing El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
When asked why the Church didn’t just simply tell children to return home, Bishop Seitz responded that we have to care for the children in need. He added “We never get a pass on compassion.”
*Debbie Smith is Senior Attorney in CLINIC's Training and Legal Support Section