A man, part of a caravan of migrants from Central America to the United States, carries a girl Oct. 29 through the Suchiate River into Mexico from Guatemala. CNS photo/Adrees Latif, Reuters

Editorial: Listen to cries

  • October 31, 2018

As a caravan of some 7,000 weary migrants trudged across the poorest region of Mexico, heading for the U.S. border, they found sympathy and received donations of food, water and clothing from ordinary Mexicans who themselves had little. 

This outpouring of generosity should have shamed all those in the wealthy North who’ve been demanding these desperate Central American migrants turn around or, if necessary, be turned around at the point of a gun. Instead of empathy, the U.S. president announced more than 5,000 troops were being deployed to the Mexican border as he threatened to cut off a billion dollars in aid to Honduras and Guatemala because these broken nations, crushed by poverty and violence, allowed the departure of this human train of misery.

He wasn’t alone. Across the continent voices demanded these poor wretches go back to where they came from. Go back to lives of destitution and despair, go back to streets of guns and drugs, go back to back alleys of human traffickers, go back to jobless neighbourhoods of corruption, extortion and persecution. 

Passing through impoverished Mexican communities the migrants stirred compassion. Elsewhere they provoked a call to arms. Four months ago, long before the migrants set out, Pope Francis wrote about this callous side of human nature in a message for World Day of the Poor.

“The poor hear voices scolding them, telling them to be quiet and to put up with their lot,” he wrote. “These voices are harsh, often due to fear of the poor, who are considered not only destitute but also a source of insecurity and unrest, an unwelcome distraction from life as usual and needing to be rejected and kept afar.”

The response to misery should be mercy. Of course nations have a duty to protect their borders, but that doesn’t mean becoming deaf to cries for help. That’s what this caravan is. It’s a desperate plea to acknowledge that much of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, among the most violent places on Earth, have become economic and social tragedies, unfit places to try to raise a family.

Instead of mobilizing troops or making threats with economic bludgeons, nations should be addressing the poverty, violence, joblessness and general lack of opportunity that incited thousands of people to take desperate flight into the unknown. We should hear their cry for help and, rather than punish them for being poor, extend a hand of kindness and seek practical solutions to help them build livable communities. 

“For the poor to overcome their oppressive situation, they need to sense the presence of brothers and sisters who are concerned for them and, by opening the doors of their hearts and lives, make them feel like friends and family,” wrote Pope Francis.

That’s the way to stop these human caravans.

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