A young participant prays with a Catholic group in solidarity with detained children at the United States' border with Mexico. The group processed around St. Mary Cathedral in downtown Portland.
A young participant prays with a Catholic group in solidarity with detained children at the United States' border with Mexico. The group processed around St. Mary Cathedral in downtown Portland.
A dozen lay Catholics met earlier this month by the steps of St. Mary Cathedral in downtown Portland to pray the rosary in solidarity with detained children at the United States’ border with Mexico. The group was part of a national Catholic campaign calling for the end to such detentions, which are “contrary to Gospel values as written in Matthew chapter 25, where we are called to welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, and care for the sick,” say the organizers.

Eileen Sleva, a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Beaverton said she was heartened to know that the Portland group was one of several across the country.

“Each one of us can speak to someone,” said Sleva. “Our words can turn into a stream, joining others that become a river, that then joins the ocean and we can reach the entire world.”

“This is a life issue,” said John Kingery, a member of St. Juan Diego Parish. “It should be something we can all agree on.”

After an opening song, which drew applause from a young mother and her children who were passing by, the group prayed the rosary as they processed around the cathedral, stopping at cardinal points to meditate upon the mysteries.

At each stop, Kingery invited participants to consider stories gleaned from lawyers who had interviewed children in custody. One interview was from a 5-year-old, who told the lawyer he was frightened and sick, and wanted his father. “It is cold at night,” he said.

A 12-year-old told the lawyers that “the officials here are very bad to us. During the night when we’re trying to sleep they come in and wake us up, yelling and scaring us.”

And a 15-year-old said, “A Border Patrol agent came in our room with a two-year-old boy and asked us, ‘Who wants to take care of this little boy?’” She did her best to care for the toddler, who was sick.

Mary Ryan Hotchkiss, a member of St. Pius X Parish and a Maryknoll affiliate, agreed this mistreatment of children is a signatory life issue. She recalled visiting a retreat center in El Paso that is now a refugee center. “Everyone there had a story,” she said.

An audit from a Department of Health and Human Services inspector general that was released in September seemed to agree with Hotchkiss, finding “intense trauma was common” in the children who entered the United States as refugees. The report described one girl who had been held captive in her home country, tortured, raped and impregnated.

“Apathy is not an option,” said Hotchiss after the rosary and procession.

“We want to have effective compassion,” agreed Kingery.



Sidebar:

Courts, audits and docs support compassion

While the Trump administration officially ended its family separation policy in June 2018, the practice has continued. Attorneys at the border with Mexico say more than 1,000 children have been separated from their parents since then.

An audit released this September by the Department of Health and Human Services inspector general found worsening trauma for migrant children in custody.

The report found that children had suffered severe trauma before entering the United States because of violence in their home countries and were also traumatized after they entered because of potential separation from their families upon crossing the border.

Children long separated are still slowly being reunited; one migrant father rejoined his 7-year-old in September after they had been kept apart for 14 months.

In other actions affecting the migrant families, in August the Department of Homeland Security issued notice that protections for immigrant families would be lessened.

In September, federal courts blocked the Trump administration’s efforts to speed deportations and to indefinitely hold families with children in custody.

Medical groups issued a statement opposing the rolling back of protections. “Even short periods of detention can have long-lasting consequences for vulnerable populations such as pregnant women, children, and those with chronic or complex health conditions or mental illness,” they wrote. “Detention itself undermines parents’ authority and capacity to respond to their children’s needs, and there is no evidence indicating that any time in detention is safe for children.”