Catholic Bishop Robert Lynch made powerful use of his moral voice by calling for Tampa Bay residents to assist the migrant children pouring across the U.S. border. Lynch's appeal captured the humanitarian issues at play and the urgency of the moment, and his leadership stands in stark contrast to the actions by communities elsewhere and members of Congress who have ignored the plight of these children or exploited it for political gain.
Lynch announced last week that he had directed the church's social services arm, Catholic Charities, to work with the U.S. bishops conference on a plan to host some of the nearly 60,000 children who have crossed the southern border. In a blog post titled "Shame, Shame," Lynch explained his thinking, pointing out that most of these children — from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador — were fleeing death, abuse and gang violence back home. "The media has done a very good job of portraying the evil at home and critics of U.S. immigration policy have done a very bad job of painting a true picture of the situation," Lynch wrote.
The bishop has used his blog effectively in the past to reach beyond the 425,000 Catholics in the Diocese of St. Petersburg, which extends over five counties, including Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco. Lynch noted that the church has a history over decades of responding to refugee crises. Resettling some of these children in the bay area while they wind through the immigration process, he said, is "something which we know how to do and something which we should be doing." The diocese said it could help at least 100 children with temporary housing, clothing and food. Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services has already taken in boys at its 16-bed shelter in Pasco County through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement program. The Children's Home in Hillsborough County will begin accepting unaccompanied children through the same program this fall,
The bigger question is whether the Obama administration will look to deport the children quickly or treat them as refugees, which would give them temporary legal protection and clear the way for an interim resettling process.
Lynch's compassionate stance and willingness to take on this humanitarian crisis is a welcome antidote to the ugly displays by anti-immigration protesters in the border states. And it comes as Congress bolted for summer vacation without providing new money to deal with the migrant surge — and, of course, without tackling comprehensive immigration reform. Lynch is right; members of Congress are using "political gamesmanship" and a coming election to "turn a deaf ear to the cries of these kids." The situation is dire, sad and needless, and the bishop served Tampa Bay well by speaking up and offering a hand.