Obviously the 50,000 unaccompanied children who have flooded over the U.S./Mexico border so far this year have created a political, economic and legal crisis for this country.
And with the Department of Homeland Security expecting that number to reach 90,000 by the end of December plus another 142,000 in 2015 at a cost of $2.28 billion to our government (your tax dollars), the situation could become disastrous unless political, business, labor and other leaders bypass their differences and develop a workable solution.
“Get a Visa!” is not the easy answer to the problem.
According to the Migration Information Source, which compiles statistics and other information from the Census Bureau, other government agencies and organizations such as the Pew Research Foundation, the average wait for a permanent resident visa after an application is filed is more than 20 years.
And that’s in the best case scenario when the applicant is the son or daughter of parents who are American citizens living in the United States. There can be complications: FBI check, exchange of information between governments, or (in the case of Green Card holders) limits because of the country of origin or the category of work that you do.
The immediate challenge is what to do about the children already within our borders.
Leaders of what Jack Jenkins, writing for the Think Progress organization’s website, calls “an unlikely coalition of faith groups” already are providing temporary help while addressing the moral issues that are inherent in the problem.
Whether it is Baptist relief services providing shelter for the immigrant children (call them illegal or undocumented or what you will) in Texas or a Catholic parish doing the same thing in California, or Mormons like Glenn Beck distributing truck loads of teddy bears and soccer balls, church and synagogue members are offering food, clothing, medical care, counseling and more in efforts to live out their faith in this situation.
Meanwhile, liberal clerics such as United Methodist Bishop Miinerva Carcano, of the California-Pacific Conference, and Rev. David Vasquez, spokesman for the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, have led the gathering of signatures for a petition that has been presented to the administration and Congress asking for increased funds for care of the children and providing legal representation for them.
More conservative religious groups such as the National Association of Evangelicals, The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, World Vision and World Relief — all involved with meeting the physical needs of the children — have petitioned DHS secretary Jeh Johnson for increased protection for the children.
In addition to their humanitarian concern for the children, faith groups have a vested interest in all immigrants.
There is no way of accurately knowing statistics on the faith of immigrants or life-long residents of the U.S. but based on census data and surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center in May of last year, the number of Christians among the million or so legal immigrants who entered this country each year from 1992 thorough 2012 dropped from 68 percent to 61 percent but remained by far the largest group.
Among illegal or undocumented immigrants, 83 percent are estimated by Pew to be self-identified as Christians. Muslims doubled from 5 percent to 10 percent to make up the second largest group among legal immigrants. Hindus more than doubled from 3 percent to 7 percent, Buddhists declined from 7 percent to 6 percent. There were no other sizable faith groups. Those who declare themselves of no religious faith have continued to makeup about 14 percent of all immigrants.
Country of origin is a strong clue to the faith of immigrants, legal or illegal. In 1992, 44 percent of them were from the Latin and Caribbean countries. The percentage dropped to 38 in 2012. The number from Asian and Pacific nations grew from 36 percent to 38 percent; the number from Europe dropped from 13 per to 8 percent; those from sub-Sahara Africa grew from 2 percent to 9 percent; and those from the Mideast and North Africa grew from 3 percent to 6 percent.
So if religious groups of every stripe and leaning can work to meet the problem head on, why can’t politicians of whatever party, leaders in competing industries, labor unions and other interest groups get something done?
During a 48-year career with The Miami Herald, for 37 years Adon Taft was the religion editor. He also taught social studies at Miami-Dade Community College.