“The bishops really wanted to say a couple of things. One is make sure that if the children who are unaccompanied are here, make sure they have some legal help before they’re deported back to a bad situation,” Iowa Catholic Conference spokesman Tom Chapman says. “But also try to alert our own community that we’re going to be needing to step up and help as best we can.”
Federal officials have asked the Catholic Church for help.
“There’s such a rush at the border that they just can’t handle all the people coming in,” Chapman says, “and so now they’re reaching out to other organizations like Catholic Charities U.S.A. for assistance.”
Chapman says the humane treatment of immigrants has long been a key issue for Iowa’s Catholic bishops and the new pope has made it crystal clear.
“‘Jesus himself was a refugee.’ That was what Pope Francis said in his statement for World Refugee Day recently and so we have a very concrete obligations to help those situations where we can,” Chapman says. “What we’ll be encouraging people to do, particularly Catholics, is kind of keep an eye on the news, keep an eye on what their bishops are saying and we may be asking for some help for Catholic Charities for this specific purpose pretty soon.”
A November 2013 report from the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration alerted the Catholic community that more and more unaccompanied children were crossing the border.
“The Iowa bishops really thought that this was an important statement to make,” Chapman says. “They’ve been hearing about this situation within their own group for months now. They knew this was coming and now that it’s here they want to make sure that they alert people that, really, the best interests of children should be a priority.”
The statement from the four Catholic bishops in Iowa warn the children who do not have relatives somewhere in the U.S. are “at risk of being sent back to an unsafe situation.” According to the Iowa Catholic Conference, there are about half a million Catholics in Iowa. Census data indicates nearly 17 percent of Iowans are Catholics.