U.S. border policy exacerbates problems for migrants

The plight of would-be immigrants coming to the United States’ southern border is well documented here at Global Sisters Report and elsewhere.

But this week’s New Yorker details yet another snare awaiting immigrants: Kidnappers who grab children crossing the border and hold them for ransom. And in yet another sign of just how twisted American immigration policy is, these victims are by law often entitled to special visas that would allow them to stay here. But instead:

“The kidnapping victims are treated the same as the extortioners,” Stephanie Taylor, an immigration attorney based in Texas, told me. “They’re considered willing participants.” Some undocumented family members who report that their loved ones were sexually assaulted or held captive for profit have been punished, rather than told of their potential right to legal protection, she said. Taylor spent the past five years at American Gateways, an Austin nonprofit that provides legal aid to immigrants, where her clients included kidnapping and trafficking victims. In one of her cases, a mother called the police in the hope that they would rescue her three children from a Houston stash house, where they were being held by a smuggler who had jacked up his fees. After apprehending the captors, authorities detained the mother and the children and placed them in deportation proceedings.

There is also, of course, fear of the kidnappers – being afraid of retribution keeps many from testifying against them.

The very long story (over 9,000 words) also shows how America’s border policy – well intentioned or not – has actually exacerbated the problems:

According to Michelle Brané, who has interviewed more than a hundred Central American migrants for the Women’s Refugee Commission, “The harder you make it to cross, the more people can charge, the more dangerous the trip becomes.” The country’s current approach to border security has made coyotes more indispensable to migrants than ever, Brané told me, and has led to the replacement of small-time smuggling operations – lone guides, in many cases, bringing migrants across the border – with sophisticated, and increasingly brutal, transnational networks.

One federal judge in the U.S. Southern District of Texas, the story says, even castigated the government for arresting only the smugglers and kidnappers and not a 10-year-old girl’s mother “for instigating the conspiracy to violate our border security laws.” The judge, Andrew Hanen, said that by delivering the child to her mother, the government was “thus successfully completing the mission of the criminal conspiracy.”

Hanen is the same judge who, in February, issued the preliminary injunction blocking President Obama’s deportation relief measures.

Coal miners’ costs to life

The pastoral letter by 25 Catholic bishops came only after a series of listening sessions in 16 rural towns, where officials collected the stories of economic struggles and dreams. The language is simple, but the message is nuanced, “examining the injustices facing Appalachian workers, communities and the environment because of coal mining. It challenges the actions of mining companies. The Bishops’ letter notes that the wealth from coal mines left workers and communities poor while corporate profits soared.”

But while “This Land is Home to Me” may ring with a chord often struck by progressives and advocates today, it is not new: The ground-breaking look at powerlessness in Appalachia was written 40 years ago, in 1975.

Not only was the pastoral letter a blue-print for future efforts, but it has shaped four decades of efforts by Jesuits and others working in the Appalachians.

“It blends local experiences, the witness of scripture, and the church’s social justice position,” noted Fr. Brian O’Donnell, SJ, rector of the Jesuit community in Wheeling, West Virginia. “This Land is Home to Me” remains prophetic in so many ways: it calls attention to the unsustainable pattern of energy use and consumption in the U.S. and other developed nations; it challenges us to change our relationship with Creation; and it calls on us to celebrate and preserve the vibrant culture of rural Appalachian communities.

The story notes that while “This Land is Home to Me” is for and about Appalachia, it applies to all of us. “‘This Land is Home to Me’ offers the rest of the U.S. and the world a challenge to look deeply at how and what we consume as individuals, communities and a nation, especially as we await the release of Pope Francis’s first Papal Encyclical focused on the environment,” it says. “The call of the mountains and people living in Appalachia, a call that is seamless with the demands of our faith, is still clear.  Are you listening?”

A shift in pontifical social science academy from publishing to advocacy

For 20 years, the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences has done what academics do: produced academic papers. Books – “enormous books, unreadable books” – of deep thoughts on philosophy, economics, sociology, law, political science, religious studies and history.

But thanks to a handwritten note on the back of an envelope, all that has changed, Catholic News Service reports.

Of course, it helps that the note was from Pope Francis.

With each new pope, the academy would offer its services, said Margaret Archer, a British sociologist and president of the Academy. When Pope Francis was elected in 2013, “we wrote the usual polite letter,” Archer said. “What we have previously received were very much pro-forma [letters] that said, ‘Oh, we are grateful for your work; please continue.’ So we did and we produced more of these big books.”

But in May 2013, Pope Francis himself responded – in his own handwriting, in Spanish, on the back of an envelope: "I think it would be good to examine human trafficking and modern slavery. Organ trafficking could be examined in connection with human trafficking. Many thanks, Francis."

Now, instead of producers of academic papers and books, the Academy is an advocate: The academy’s 25 members are focusing their research on practical, enforceable steps that can be taken to stem human trafficking.

The Academy is already working with the United Nations on the problem and is urging governments to recognize the difference between people who migrate willingly, though without permission, and those who are victims of coercion or force.

Remember, links, tips and accounts of the response to any crisis anywhere in the world are always welcome at dstockman@ncronline.org.

[Dan Stockman is national correspondent for Global Sisters Report. Follow him on Twitter @DanStockman or on Facebook.]