Rev. Samuel Rodriguez is the president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, a group whose mission it is to represent and serve the Hispanic Evangelical Community.
This week, the NHCLC—in partnership with Buckner International, Convoy of Hope, Somebody Cares and CONELA—is launching an online initiative called For His Children. The campaign seeks to give Christians the ability to donate resources to unaccompanied immigrant children, to communicate to families in Central America about the dangers of sending their unaccompanied children to the U.S., and to share the Gospel with them.
We recently spoke with Rev. Rodriguez about the situation on the border and the For His Children campaign.
Why is it that so many unaccompanied children are coming to the United States recently?
We have a 2008 George W. Bush law that was written with great intentions. It was an anti-sex trafficking law. That law basically says if you’re a child, and you come from El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Central America—if you come there’s a strong possibility you may be engaged in sex trafficking—therefore we’re going to protect you.
That law served as the fodder taking place in El Salvador—based on nothing other than myths and hyperbole—that the Obama administration was going to, in essence, grant deferment to all the kids that arrived here before the end of this year. So we’re looking at kids coming up to the U.S. border because they believe they’re going to be granted amnesty.
Here’s our message [to families in Central America]: “Don’t send your children to the U.S. border.” Here’s why: If you’re parents in El Salvador, and you are attempting to protect your children from drugs and gang violence … and you want to send your children to America to be protected, the probability of your children, by staying in the United States without their parents in East LA, joining the same gang they were fleeing from in El Salvador is very high. That’s not anecdotal extrapolation. That’s based on studies that have been done.
If they stay in their country of origin with their parents, parents can serve as a firewall against many of those social ills.
For the children who do come here, is the reality that they most likely will be sent back because the pretense that they came under was false?
No. Over 80 percent will stay. These kids are different because of the Bush law. They have to go to a hearing. It’s the law. They can’t be deported back. Over 80 percent of those kids will never appear for their hearing, and they become undocumented.
For this recent influx of children that are here in detention centers and that may end up undocumented long term, is there anything Christians can do?
We don’t want their parents sending them here, but if they are coming here, I need to make this clear: These are kids. These are little children. I have three children of my own.
So what should Christians be doing? We should not at all ever be engaged in rhetoric from either political ideology. We should engage in one thing: Ministering to the needs of these children—physical needs and spiritual needs.
Spiritually, as a pastor, I want to see these children come to Christ at large because I love them so much. These are our children, by the way. I have a problem with … I can’t even use the term “illegal children.” I can’t do that. I understand that they came in here illegally, and I understand they’re undocumented, but no child is illegal. Every child is made in the image of God.
So what should we do as Christians? Immediately, we should make sure they’re taken care of. We at the NHCLC … we’re looking at creating a coalition of supplies and resources. Meaning if a kid needs shoes, we’re going to provide shoes through Buckner. If they need food, if they need a change of clothes, we’re going to work with Convoy of Hope and Somebody Cares. We’re working together through our churches in Texas. We have over 6,000 NHCLC churches in Texas alone.
The government is not granting us access. The government is not granting anyone access—any NGO or any faith group. We have access to the kids who have broken in but have not been caught. So we’re ministering to the kids that have been able to come over the border, that have not been caught by immigration and are in the border town.
The only exception would be the Red Cross. They are permitting the Red Cross to have access. We want to reach these kids even when they’re released from detention.
If our readers wanted to get involved to support your efforts, how could they do that?
We are launching a website called For His Children, and we would love them to engage. It doesn’t even have to be money. You could send a pair of shoes over. You could purchase it online and send it over through Buckner. We want to provide shoes. We want to provide school supplies. We want to provide changes of clothes for these children.
Some of these kids come over barefoot. That’s not hyperbole. That’s not like something you’re making up for the sake of drawing emotion. I’ve been to the border. I was just in Mexico. These kids are coming over barefoot with minimal amounts of clothing. It’s just heartbreaking.
Murrieta, California broke my heart. To have over 100 adults spitting at a bus full of children, cursing, telling children, “Go home! We don’t want you here.” Listen, these are not 55-year-old, 45-year-old, even 30-year-old adults who came in here illegally. These are little kids. And to have 100+ adults with signs and banners and posters literally yelling at a bus to such an extent the bus driver has to turn around, and these kids are hearing curses coming at them—that is morally reprehensible. It is evil. It is anti-Christian. It is anti-American, and we should be ashamed of ourselves for responding in such a manner.
I saw those videos on the news. It was upsetting to see.
We must do better. We’re Christians. Christians first and foremost. Our Kingdom citizenship trumps everything.
These kids are here now. They’re devastated. Some of them were molested. Some of them were exploited. All of them have some sort of traumatic experience traveling 1,500 miles.
What should we do with them? We should show them the love of Jesus Christ. We should be Christians first and foremost. We should bring them good news because that’s what Christians do. Bring good news.
My final comment to your readers would be to pray that this recent crisis at the border does not resurrect the nativist, racist element that unfortunately still lies embedded in many segments of our population. Not everyone who is anti-illegal immigration is a racist. I am anti-illegal immigration. But there are segments of our society that view this through a prism of race, and we need to pit against that and build a firewall of love and of conviction and compassion.