Recent tragedies off the coasts of Lampedusa, Italy and Florida, involving shipwrecked men, women, and children fill the screen and illuminate the harsh realities prompting international migration. I am struck by the images of families, risking their lives for the opportunity of a more secure future, facing seemingly insurmountable social and political obstacles for the chance at a better life. Hope and, often, faith compel them to seek a better life in an unfamiliar land.
Current events have marred shorelines that should be beacons of hope with heartbreak. On October 3, 2013, 365 Eritreans lost their lives as their boat, carrying 500 migrants to Lampedusa, capsized and caught fire. Just days later, a vessel transporting 200 Syrian refugees similarly capsized and with it, 38 lives were lost in the Mediterranean Sea. On October 16, a boat carrying 15 Haitians capsized just eight miles from Miami. Four of them, all women, drowned. The rest await a determination about their fate in immigration custody.
The Holy Father drew attention to the plight of displaced peoples during his Papal visit to Lampedusa in July, following a related tragedy. “Who has wept for the people who were on the boat? For the young mothers carrying their babies? For these men who wanted something to support their families?” The Holy Father raises a heart-wrenching question: have we become indifferent to the suffering of the most vulnerable among us? And now, with news of yet another incident involving immigrants, this time from Haiti, only miles from the United States, my mind echoes the same questions posed by Pope Francis and implores that I reflect on our migrant brothers and sisters.
In the face of civil war, persecution, or heart-wrenching abject poverty, I would do what I needed to do to protect and support my family. The desire to afford my loved ones protection and security would outweigh the threat of imprisonment, fines, or physical harm. And, it would be my hope that kindness would transcend indifference and welcome could be found among strangers.
That is why the work of CLINIC affiliates is so important. The staff members at our charitable legal service providers serve as ambassadors of hope to immigrants. By lending a helping hand to newcomers, we are respecting the God-given human rights of immigrants who may be in need of a lifeline. May current events reaffirm our desire to love our neighbors and continue our work to serve in solidarity with the most vulnerable.
*Jeanne M. Atkinson is the Executive Director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC)