Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore has joined other evangelical Christian leaders in urging President Joe Biden to address the substantial increase in unaccompanied children arriving at the border with Mexico in a compassionate manner that adheres to federal law.
Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), and the eight other leaders of the Evangelical Immigration Table (EIT) sent a letter March 17 to Biden that called for his administration to partner with religious and non-profit organizations to provide as soon as possible the capacity required to care for such unaccompanied minors.
Nearly 30,000 unaccompanied children under 18 years of age, including almost 3,000 who are less than 12 years old, were encountered on the Southwest border from Oct. 1 to Feb. 28, according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The number of unaccompanied minors from Central America increased by 60% from January to February, according to National Public Radio.
Children “are being held in unacceptable conditions” because the normal transfer from CBP custody to the care of the Department of Health and Human Services has been delayed by the increase in unaccompanied minors at the border, according to the EIT letter.
“As Christians who seek to emulate Jesus’ particular concern for vulnerable children, we urge you to lead decisively, ensuring that our government respects both the dignity of these children and its obligation to comply with the law and ensure secure borders,” the EIT leaders told Biden in the letter. The federal government should increase the ability to care for these minors “both for those children’s sake and to be able to focus CBP resources on their primary mission of protecting the nation’s borders, not caring for children,” they wrote.
The situation, Moore said, “ought to remind us that unaccompanied migrant children are not a mere problem to be solved. They bear the image of God, and are endowed by Him with dignity and worth. Jesus loves them, and so should we.”
“These kinds of problems will persist at our border for as long as our immigration system is allowed to languish in incoherence,” Moore said in a written release announcing the EIT letter. “A better path forward will require government leaders – both in Congress and the administration – coming together in an honest search for solutions based on long-term strategies.”
Meanwhile, he said, “we should do everything we can do, through both Christian ministry and government policy, to help alleviate the suffering of those who are attempting to flee violence in their home countries.”
Twice in the last decade (2011 and 2018), messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting have approved resolutions on immigration reform that called for securing the border and establishing “a just and compassionate path to legal status,” with restitutionary measures, for undocumented immigrants already in the United States.
Typically, federal law requires unaccompanied children to be moved within 72 hours from CBP custody to the supervision of HHS, which cooperates with a network of providers to care for the children and reunite them with family members or sponsors until a judge decides if they are eligible to remain in the United States. The huge increase in unaccompanied minors has resulted in some children being placed in CBP detention centers at the border.
The EIT leaders thanked Biden for not reinstating a policy in effect during most of 2020 that evicted unaccompanied minors. They acknowledged the change had resulted in the current challenges.
In response to the influx of unaccompanied children, the Biden administration has established processing centers to transfer them to HHS care and has opened emergency shelters in Texas, Reuters News Service reported March 18. In addition, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which normally responds to natural disasters, has been deployed to help, according to the report.
The increase in border encounters with unaccompanied children and others began in April 2020, because of “ongoing violence, natural disasters, food insecurity and poverty” in some Central American countries, CBP reported March 10. It also said the total number of encounters with people at the border rose by 28% from January to February of this year.
Forty Republican senators blamed Biden in a letter Wednesday for helping produce the crisis of people arriving at the border. The president’s Jan. 20 suspension of border wall construction and freeze on congressionally approved funds for the effort “directly contributed to this unfortunate, yet entirely avoidable, scenario,” they wrote.
In their letter, the EIT leaders also offered other policy recommendations to help prevent such crises in the future.
In addition to Moore, the EIT leaders who signed onto the letter to Biden are Scott Arbeiter, president, World Relief; Shirley Hoogstra, president, Council for Christian Colleges and Universities; Hyepin Im, president, Faith and Community Empowerment; Walker Kim, president, National Association of Evangelicals; Chris Palusky, president, Bethany Christian Services; Gabriel Salguero, president, National Latino Evangelical Coalition; Edgar Sandoval Sr., president, World Vision U.S.; and Wayne Schmidt, general superintendent, The Wesleyan Church.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)