In the face of an imploding immigration system, an exploding political debate and a deadlock on reform in Washington, it was religious leaders who rallied to form a humanitarian response to the surge of unaccompanied children crossing the border to the United States this summer.
The number of migrants crossing the border began its steady rise in 2011, but it escaped the Obama administration’s notice until spring, when the rise became a wave.
By September, 66,127 unaccompanied children and 66,142 Salvadoran, Guatemalan and Honduran families had crossed into the Southwest, mostly into the Rio Grande Valley. The flood contributed to a backlog in U.S. immigration courts of nearly 400,000 cases.
Nowhere was the religious leadership more apparent than in McAllen, Texas, where churches and local government forged an effective and compassionate response to the crisis.
“The United States is wonderful,” said one woman, after I helped get her oriented to what buses she would take from Tucson to Florida, gave food and snacks to her and her 8- and 9-year-old sons, and helped her find sweaters and a blanket to stay warm through the inevitably extreme air conditioning of the buses. In that moment, I thought about other U.S. towns passing laws to keep people like her out and protesters angrily blocking buses full of unaccompanied minors or mothers and their children.