July 30, 2014 — The Society of Jesus in the United States (the Jesuit order) is making a personal plea to the 43 Congressional representatives who graduated from U.S. Jesuit high schools and colleges to “uphold the dignity of the human person and the sacredness of human life” when considering policy solutions to address the influx of children fleeing violence in Central America.
In a letter to Speaker John Boehner (Xavier University), copied to Jesuit alumni in Congress, Fr. Thomas H. Smolich, SJ, president of the Jesuit Conference, called on Congress to uphold the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (TVPRA).
Currently, most unaccompanied minors detained by Border Patrol agents are handed over to the Department of Health and Human Services, which coordinates their care and provides an opportunity for children to tell their story to an adult they can trust. As part of his response to the increase in the number of children arriving at the border, President Obama asked Congress to consider weakening the TVPRA in order to fast-track deportations of children. Now, House leadership is seeking to change the law, which would allow a single Border Patrol agent to render a deportation decision and quickly deport a child back to his or her home country.
Fr. Smolich said that a change to the TVPRA, “would result in children having a one-shot chance to disclose their persecution to a Customs and Border Protection agent or officer…” He called any attempt to dilute TVPRA “inhumane and an insult to American values,” particularly since some children might have been “victimized by armed men in uniform.”
The letter also asked Speaker Boehner and Congressional alumni of Jesuit institutions to protect the due process rights of vulnerable children and examine the root causes leading children to flee in unprecedented numbers.
“This is not a new crisis, nor is it primarily at our border. Rather it has been escalating over the last decade…90 children are murdered or disappeared in Honduras every month,” said Fr. Smolich, who also reminds Speaker Boehner that “this is the equivalent of eight children being executed in your Congressional district every thirty days.”
Recalling the assassination of six Jesuits in El Salvador nearly 25 years ago, Fr. Smolich emphasized the Jesuits’ commitment to working with fellow Jesuits and lay partners in Central America, who live the reality of widespread violence. They see “the elementary school teacher murdered when he tried to prevent gangs from forcibly recruiting his students; the young girl pulled from her home, offered as a birthday present to a gang leader and then raped by 16 men; lay colleagues of Jesuits assassinated and harassed by the police.”
Fr. Smolich closed his letter by asking the Speaker and his fellow Jesuit alumni in Congress to “uphold an American tradition” of welcoming “the refugee, the victim of trafficking, the child who has been abused or abandoned.”
In the video below, Mary Small of Jesuit Refugee Service/USA and Shaina Aber of the United States Jesuit Conference explain what is driving people to flee Central America.