TIME

Begging for Impeachment

Barack Obama
President Barack Obama pauses, as he announces new economic sanctions against key sectors of the Russian economy in the latest move by the U.S. to force Russian President Vladimir Putin to end his support for Ukrainian rebels, on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington on July 29, 2014. Manuel Balce Ceneta—AP

To improve its standing with voters, the White House tries to drum up some trouble for itself

At 10:02 on Friday evening, July 25, I received the following personal message from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee: “THE IMPEACHMENT OF PRESIDENT OBAMA IS NOW A REAL POSSIBILITY.” The capital letters were in red. This was a blast email, of course, sent to everyone on the Democratic Party’s fundraising list, and also to political journalists. It referred to some very calculated remarks that White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer had made earlier that day about impeachment: “I think Speaker Boehner, by going down the path of this lawsuit [against the President], has opened the door to Republicans possibly considering impeachment at some point in the future.”

This was the beginning of a half-crazed weekend begathon by the Democrats. The next afternoon: “Sorry to email you early on a Saturday—but we’re on full RED ALERT at Democratic Head-quarters…According to our records, you haven’t chipped in since Republicans authorized a vote to sue President Obama.” (Or ever chipped in, for that matter.) And Sunday: “MAJOR UPDATE: House Republicans held a closed-door meeting to discuss impeaching President Obama.” On Monday I received a cranky email from Obama himself: “Joe Biden has emailed you. Michelle has emailed you. And now I’ve emailed you. We wouldn’t all be asking if it wasn’t so important. Right now, Republicans in Congress are trying to sue me for simply doing my job.” Later that day, the DCCC re-sent me that email: “Did you see this? President Obama emailed you this morning.”

Holy moley. There is cleverness to the onslaught, of course, a classic use of a political tactic known as jiu-jitsu: take your opponent’s feral vehemence and roll with it. No doubt, Pfeiffer is right. There is a chance that the Republicans will try to impeach the President, especially later in the summer, after he announces a major Executive Order that will affect a large number—millions, perhaps—of the illegal immigrants now in the country. There is speculation that it will be a further expansion of the legal status he conferred on children brought into the U.S. illegally by their parents; perhaps the parents will now be included. There is likely to be an explosion if he does this—the Central American refugee crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border has made immigration the hottest of domestic issues. It is also the most toxic issue for Republicans, who hope to win the presidency someday—and the Senate this November.

House Speaker Boehner has said there will be no impeachment. That’s why he instituted a rather silly lawsuit against the President over—yet again—Obamacare, which aides say could be expanded if Obama goes for broke on the border. Boehner is trying to placate the GOP base. But he also promised that there would be no government shutdown in 2013 and got trampled by his troops. The Speaker knows there’s nothing the Democrats would rather have than impeachment and immigration as the dominant issues in the fall campaign. He also knows there’s nothing Rush Limbaugh would rather have; indeed, it would be a ratings bonanza—the base would go berserk. And on the other end of the Republican evolutionary spectrum, a leading conservative thinker, Yuval Levin, has said the Executive Order that Obama is contemplating would be “the most extreme act of executive overreach ever attempted by an American President in peacetime.” There might be no stopping the primal fury unleashed by what the Republicans are calling “executive amnesty.”

So, this is smart strategy on the part of the Obama political operation, right? Well, grudgingly, yes. But it’s also cynical as hell. The White House is playing with fire, raising the heat in a country that is already brain-fried by partisan frenzy. There is something unseemly, and unprecedented, about an administration saying “Bring it on” when it comes to impeachment. Clinton’s White House certainly never did publicly, even though it was clear from polling that the spectacle would be a disaster for Republicans. Of course, President Clinton had done something immoral, if not impeachable, and Obama has not. Another impeachment ordeal would be terrible for the country.

Also terrible for the country, if all too common, is the DCCC’s impeachment begging—and the President’s constant fat-cat fundraising in a summer of trouble. What if he simply said, “I’m done with fundraising. This is an important election, but there’s just too much going on in the world right now”? His political folks would hate it, but I suspect it might be more effective, and presidential, than sending out tin-cup emails.

TIME politics

What I Saw at the Border

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson at the Aspen Security Forum. Dan Bayer/Aspen Institute

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson describes his visit to McAllen, Texas

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Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson appeared recently at the Aspen Security Forum. Here he describes his visit to McAllen, Texas on the border with Mexico to NPR’s Dina Temple-Raston. His remarks have been provided by the Aspen Journal of Ideas, a new digital publication of the Aspen Institute. Find this article, more from the journal, and their daily list of the Five Best Ideas at Aspen.us.

I came into office December 23rd, and almost from the beginning I was hearing about the issue of unaccompanied kids coming into the Rio Grande Valley illegally. I went down to Brownsville, to our detention center near Brownsville in January. One of the things that struck me then was that day we had 995 detainees, only 18 percent of whom were from Mexico. And this is a mile from the Mexican border. The other 82 percent were from 30 different countries all across the globe, different continents, and so it was apparent to me then that the Rio Grande Valley Sector of the Southwest border needed to be an area of particular concern.

In January, in our budget process, we estimated that we were going to have 60,000 unaccompanied kids coming in. We ramped up resources. And then the numbers really began to spike to an unprecedented level in the period of March, April, May. I was hearing reports about this and recognized that we needed a plan to deal with it.

Thursday before Mother’s Day, so that was probably May 8th, I got a report from the Customs and Border Protection that the numbers were really spiking up, and we needed to address it, and they were recommending certain things to me that I needed to do as the Secretary of DHS on a DHS-wide basis to address this spike in migration by the kids.

And so my wife, Susan, and I were planning to go out to California to visit our son at Occidental College, and we were going to fly back in time to spend the rest of the day with our daughter, who’s back in Washington, for Mother’s Day. And I said to Susan, “While we’re out there would you mind stopping with me in South Texas to see a lot of other kids in between our two kids?” And we went there to the processing center at McAllen Station, and when you walk into a border patrol processing center you see a long table with border patrol agents in green sitting on one side in front of computer terminals, and they’re conducting interviews of the illegal migrants that have just come in, most often adult men, and they’re taking down basic information, name, where you’re from, age, and so forth, and so on.

We walked in on this particular day, it was Sunday, May 11th, Mother’s Day, and first of all, it was flooded with people, kids, and what was most striking is on this long processing table you’ve got the border patrol agents in their green uniforms, and on the other side, sitting on benches, are 7-, 8-year-old children, 10-year-old children being interviewed and processed. And my first encounter, I’ve been there probably five times, I think, and every time I go there I spend time talking to the children about why they made this journey. And my first encounter was the most memorable.

I saw this little girl with this beautiful long black hair, she was about 10 or 12 years old, sitting there being interviewed by a border patrol agent, and I asked her, “Where’s your mother?” And through the translator she said, “My mother is dead. I’m looking for my father in the United States. That’s why I came here.” And the translator started to cry. The little girl started to cry. And I don’t mind telling you I started to cry. And I came back to Washington the next day realizing this was a big problem, and we had to do something about it. And I made a bunch of phone calls to the ambassadors of the three Central American countries, the ambassador from Mexico, Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary of HHS then, Deputy Secretary of Defense, the American Red Cross, to mobilize, to begin the process of mobilizing the resources that we needed to address this problem.

And as I’m sure you know, we’ve brought to bear a lot of resources to address it. Over the last four to six weeks, the numbers have been going down, and overall apprehensions among kids, adults with kids, unaccompanied adults, it reached its high water mark around June 10th, and it’s been going back down, but it could spike back up again at any moment, and so we’ve surged resources, and we have on Capitol Hill right now a request for supplemental funding, which is critical, which Congress is going to be taking up this week and next week, and if it doesn’t pass, we’re going to run out of money to deal with this.

And I’ve got my CFO working overtime without sleep trying to figure out how we are going to pay for this if Congress doesn’t act. Basically, that’s not an option because I’m going to have to dial back all the things we’ve done to surge resources to deal with this spike unless Congress acts. I’ve been in a number of conversations with members on both sides of the aisle about the urgency of this, and we really need it to pass. Sorry for the long-winded answer.

I do not know what happened to the little girl, and that’s something I will wonder about all the rest of my life.

TIME Immigration

Poll: Most Americans Want to Shelter, Not Deport, Migrant Children

Obama Meets With Leaders Of Honduras, Guatemala And El Salvador At White House
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks as President Otto Perez Molina (2nd L) of Guatemala, President Juan Orlando Hernandez (R) of Honduras, and President Salvador Sanchez Ceren (L) of El Salvador listen in the White House July 25, 2014 in Washington, DC. Alex Wong—Getty Images

A survey finds bipartisan majorities reject immediate deportation

Roughly seven in 10 Americans would prefer to see unaccompanied migrant children in the U.S. treated as refugees rather than illegal immigrants who should face immediate deportation, according to a new survey released Tuesday.

The findings, released by the Public Religion Research Institute, show that only one-quarter of Americans expressed support for immediate deportation of the migrant children, while 70% preferred temporary shelter along with the option of permanent residency for any child whose safety is threatened back home.

Support for temporary shelter and possible refugee status crossed party lines somewhat, with 80% of Democrats and 57% of Republicans favoring the option over immediate deportation.

The results come as the White House promised last week to stanch the flow of unaccompanied children across the southern border, while bills to address the issue are working their way through Congress. The Obama administration estimates some 90,000 migrant children from Central America will attempt to cross the U.S. border this year. Some 57,000 unaccompanied minors, meanwhile, have been picked up by law enforcement at the United States’ southern border since October.

TIME Religion

Immigration Laws Should Serve People, Not Politics

U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents take undocumented immigrants into custody on July 22, 2014 near Falfurrias, Texas.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents take undocumented immigrants into custody on July 22, 2014 near Falfurrias, Texas. John Moore—Getty Images

Was the law made for people or people for the law?

Throughout both legal history and Judeo-Christian scripture, there has always been tension between the “letter” and the “spirit” of the law. In the gospels, Jesus often rebuked the Pharisees for focusing too much on legalism instead of grace. He famously said, “The Sabbath was made for people not people for the Sabbath.”

In light of what’s been happening in our political systems, it’s clear that we need to ask: “are our laws made for people?” Or do we believe that people were made for our laws?

I have worked alongside many Republicans who have helped lead the battle for immigration reform. These Republicans care about the 11 million undocumented people in this country who have gotten stuck, stranded, marginalized, and jeopardized in a broken immigration system. These are Republicans who don’t want to deport millions of hard-working, law-abiding immigrants and who don’t want to break up their families. These are Republicans who believe that legalizing those immigrants would be good for the country and the economy and support an earned path to citizenship for those who want to wait at the back of the line to become American citizens, pay a fine for breaking the law, submit to complete background and criminal checks, learn English, and pay American taxes for the good work they do. These are Republicans who believe that helping vulnerable children supersedes ideology. And these are Republicans who want their party to be open and inclusive and ready to welcome the Hispanic American community into their party.

But then there are Republicans who have blocked immigration reform even though a majority of Republican party members across the country now favor it, who want to physically deport or make life so miserable for undocumented immigrants that they will “self-deport,” and who either themselves accept or are willing to accommodate to what even other Republicans call “racial factors” in their white constituencies. And there are, cynically, Republicans who simply refuse work with the President or Democrats on any issue. And there are some Republicans who are helping to fuel the alarmists that are rising up across the country to attack immigration and immigrants, and now even children from Central America who have recently come as desperate refugees.

The same voices that have blocked immigration reform are now trying to distort a very serious refugee crisis of children fleeing for their lives from the escalating violence in countries like Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador into an immigration problem, and are using those desperate and vulnerable children as political pawns in the debate around immigration reform. That is morally reprehensible. In Congress, with their consistent commitment to block anything President Obama proposes, the GOP is refusing to spend the money necessary to care for and carefully process the children who are seeking safety and asylum in America. Children are sitting alone away from their families in processing centers without the adequate resources to care for them.

And most shockingly—and absurdly—instead of doing what’s right and working to address the crisis we’re facing at the border, the leader of the Republican party would rather sue the President over failing to execute the Affordable Care Act (ACA). After a year of political maneuverings and a shutdown of the government in protest over the ACA, Speaker Boehner preferred to sue the president for not enforcing the letter of a law he opposes, than to vote on immigration reform which might have humanely addressed the crisis at the border. I fear the actions on health care and the inaction on immigration reform proves that in Congress scoring a political victory is far more important than alleviating the suffering of people. This is a matter of moral leadership and doing what’s right that should transcend ideology.

Because Congress has defaulted on its moral leadership in favor of political maneuvering, President Obama is considering what options his administration can take to fix particular aspects of our broken immigration system or at least reduce the suffering. But any steps he takes will far fall short of the ideal – because the only sustainable solution is legislative. We should the support the President’s attempts to offer compassion until Congress has the courage to act. He should start with ending the deportations of law-abiding people that would break up their families.

While any action the President takes will certainly be within his constitutional and legal authority, the fact that it will be the executive branch providing relief instead of the legislative branch enacting reform again raises the age old question of what purpose the law is supposed to serve? Too many of our supposed leaders seem to have forgotten that they were elected to serve people not politics and parties. This is a moral test of leadership that John Boehner needs to retake.

Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His book, The UnCommon Good is available in stores.

TIME Immigration

Obama: Migrant Children Without Humanitarian Claims Will Be Sent Back

An estimated 90,000 migrant children could cross into the U.S. before September. The President met with leaders of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to discuss ways to slow the influx

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President Barack Obama took a tough line on the thousands of unaccompanied migrant children who have crossed the nation’s southern border in recent months, saying those without humanitarian claims will be subject to return to their home countries eventually.

Meeting with the leaders of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, Obama continued his efforts to dissuade parents from sending their children on the often dangerous journey to the United States. “Children who do not have proper claims,” Obama said, “will at some point be subject to repatriation to their home countries.”

But Obama did preview what the administration is calling a “pilot program” that he is considering in Honduras to allow those with refugee claims to make them from that country without physically making the journey to the United States.

“Typically refugee status is not granted just on economic need or because a family lives in a bad neighborhood or poverty,” Obama said. “It’s typically defined fairly narrowly.”

“There may be some narrow circumstances in which there is humanitarian or refugee status that a family might be eligible for,” he added. “If that were the case it would be better for them to apply in-country rather than take a very dangerous journey up to Texas to make those same claims. But I think it’s important to recognize that that would not necessarily accommodate a large number of additional migrants.”

Obama said such a system would keep smugglers from profiting off families seeking better lives for their children, and “makes this underground migration system less necessary.”

Earlier this month Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson estimated that up to 90,000 migrant children will attempt to cross into the U.S. during the fiscal year ending this September.

TIME Immigration

Migrant Girls Share Haunting Stories About Why They Fled

Central American Female Immigrants
Central American immigrants await transportation to a U.S. Border Patrol processing center on July 24, 2014 near Mission, Texas. John Moore—Getty Images

A recent UN report gives haunting accounts from some of the girls who fled

The number of young girls captured at the US-Mexico border has increased by 77 percent this year, according to Pew Research Center analysis released Friday.

The number of girls under the age of 18 apprehended at the border this fiscal year was 13,008 compared to last year’s 7,339, according to Pew. The number of boys under 18 apprehended is still much higher at 33,924, but that represents only an 8% increase from 2013.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees released a report earlier this year that included haunting accounts from some of the young girls apprehended, in an analysis of 404 children from Mexico and Central America who had been detained at the border.

“The head of the gang that controlled her neighborhood wanted Josefina to be his girlfriend and threatened to kidnap her or to kill one of her family members if she didn’t comply,” the report writes, of one 16-year-old from El Salvador. “Josefina knew another girl from her community who had become the girlfriend of a gang member and had been forced to have sex with all the gang members.”

Two-thirds of the children from El Salvador, both male and female, reported threats of violence from organized crime as one reason for fleeing. “One of [the gang members] ‘liked’ me. Another gang member told my uncle that he should get me out of there because the guy who liked me was going to do me harm,” said 15-year-old Maritza. “In El Salvador they take young girls, rape them and throw them in plastic bags. My uncle told me it wasn’t safe for me to stay there.”

Other girls reported domestic violence as a reason for leaving. Lucia, a 16-year-old from Guatemala, escaped her abusive grandmother’s home only to move in with an abusive boyfriend. “He beat me almost every day,” Lucia said. “I stayed with him for four months. I left because he tried to kill me by strangling me. I left that same day.”

The increasing numbers of children from Mexico and Central America seeking refuge in the United States has prompted a legislative battle in Washington. It remains unresolved.

TIME Immigration

Obama Weighing Refugee Status for Honduran Child Migrants

U.S. Agents Take Undocumented Immigrants Into Custody Near Tex-Mex Border
Immigrant Melida Patricio Castro from Honduras shows a birth certificate for her daughter Maria Celeste, 2, to a U.S. Border Patrol agent near the U.S.-Mexico border near Mission, Texas on July 24, 2014. John Moore—Getty Images

Administration believes it could be done by executive order

The Obama administration is considering granting refugee status to young Hondurans as part of a plan stem the tide of unaccompanied Central American child migrants flooding illegally across the U.S.-Mexico border, White House officials reportedly said Thursday.

Under the plan youths would be interviewed in Honduras to determine if they qualify for refugee status in the United States, CBS News reports. Administration officials told the New York Times they believed the move could be done by executive action, and without going through Congress, if it did not increase the overall number of refugees to the U.S.

The proposal is reportedly one of a broader group of potential initiatives to address the crisis.

After Speaker John Boehner said that the GOP-controlled House would not allow a vote on comprehensive immigration reform this year, the President announced that he was prepared “to do what Congress refuses to do, and fix as much of our immigration system as we can.”

More than 16,000 unaccompanied Honduran children and 30,000 Hondurans traveling as families have been apprehended attempting to cross into the United States from Mexico illegally since October 1.

Juan Orlando Hernández, the President of Honduras, blames the crisis on a combination of factors, including lack of opportunity inside the country and drug cartels and street gangs enriched by narcotics trafficking who sow havoc through much of the country. Honduras has the highest murder rate of any country in the world.

President Obama was due to meet with Hernandez, Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina and El Salvadorean President Salvador Sanchez Ceren on Friday to discuss the high numbers of young immigrants crossing the border illegally.

TIME Immigration

Obama Eyes Major Immigration Move

Barack Obama, Joe Biden
President Barack Obama, accompanied by Vice President Joe Biden, speaks about immigration reform on June 30, 2014, in the White House Rose Garden in Washington. Manuel Balce Ceneta—AP

The President may be preparing to provide temporary legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants

When President Obama issues executive orders on immigration in coming weeks, pro-reform activists are expecting something dramatic: temporary relief from deportation and work authorization for perhaps several million undocumented immigrants. If the activists are right, the sweeping move would upend a contentious policy fight and carry broad political consequences.

The activists met privately with the President and his aides June 30 at the White House, and say in that meeting Obama suggested he will act before the November midterm elections. They hope his decision will offer relief to a significant percentage of the estimated 11.7 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. “He seems resolute that he’s going to go big and go soon,” says Frank Sharry, executive director of the pro-reform group America’s Voice.

Exactly what Obama plans to do is a closely held secret. But following the meeting with the activists, Obama declared his intention to use his executive authority to reform parts of a broken immigration system that has cleaved families and hobbled the economy. After being informed by Speaker John Boehner that the Republican-controlled House would not vote on a comprehensive overhaul of U.S. immigration law this year, the President announced in a fiery speech that he was preparing “to do what Congress refuses to do, and fix as much of our immigration system as we can.”

Obama has been cautious about preempting Congress. But its failure to act has changed his thinking. The recent meeting “was really the first time we had heard from the administration that they are looking at” expanding a program to provide temporary relief from deportations and work authorization for undocumented immigrants, says Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center.

The White House won’t comment on how many undocumented immigrants could be affected. “I don’t want to put a number on it,” says a senior White House official, who says Obama’s timeline to act before the mid-term elections remains in place.

Obama has a broad menu of options at his disposal, but there are two major sets of changes he can order. The first is to provide affirmative relief from deportation to one or more groups of people. Under this mechanism, individuals identified as “low-priority” threats can come forward to seek temporary protection from deportation and work authorization. In 2012, the administration created a program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), that allowed eligible young unauthorized immigrants to apply for a two-year reprieve from deportation and a work permit.

The most aggressive option in this category would be expanding deferred action to anyone who could have gained legal status under the bipartisan bill that passed the Senate in June 2013. According to a Congressional Budget Office analysis, the Senate bill would have covered up to 8 million undocumented immigrants. It is unlikely that Obama goes that far. But even more modest steps could provide relief to a population numbering in the seven figures. “You can get to big numbers very quickly,” says Marshall Fitz, director of immigration policy at the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank.

One plausible option would be to expand DACA to include some family members of those already eligible. Says a Congressional aide: “While there are several options to provide temporary deportation relief, we expect an expansion of the DACA program to other groups of individuals to be the most clear opportunity.”

It’s hard to pin down how many people this would cover; it would depend on how the administration crafts the order. But the numbers are substantial. According to the CBO, there are an estimated 4.7 million undocumented parents with a minor child living in the U.S., and 3.8 million whose children are citizens. Around 1.5 million undocumented immigrants are married to a U.S. citizen or lawful resident, but have been unable to gain legal status themselves.

Obama could also decide to grant protections for specific employment categories, such as the 1 million or so undocumented immigrants working in the agricultural sector, or to ease the visa restrictions hindering the recruitment of high-skilled foreign workers to Silicon Valley. Either move would please centrist and conservative business lobbies, who have joined with the left to press for comprehensive reform, and might help temper the blowback.

The second bucket of changes Obama is considering are more modest enforcement reforms. Jeh Johnson, Obama’s Secretary of Homeland Security, is deep into a review of the administration’s enforcement practices, and it is likely Obama will order some changes to immigration enforcement priorities. But if these tweaks are the extent of the changes, it would be a blow to activists expecting more. “That’s crumbs off the table compared to the meal we’d be expecting,” says Sharry.

Until now, Obama has frustrated immigration-reform activists by insisting he has little latitude to fix a broken system on his own. To a large extent, he’s right. Any relief the President provides would be fleeting; it’s up to Congress to find a permanent solution by rewriting the law. Deferring deportations does not confer a green card. It only offers a temporary fix.

But legal experts say Obama does have the authority to take the kinds of executive action he is thought to be considering. “As a purely legal matter, the President does have wide discretion when it comes to immigration,” says Stephen Yale-Loehr, an immigration scholar at Cornell University Law School. “Just as DACA was within the purview of the president’s executive authority on immigration, so too would expanding DACA fall within the president’s inherent immigration authority.” According to a recent report by the Center for American Progress, categorical grants of affirmative relief to non-citizens have been made 21 times since 1976, by six different presidents.

Even if Obama is on firm footing from a legal standpoint, he would be wading into political quicksand. Republicans would assail him for extending mass “amnesty” to undocumented immigrants at a moment when the southern border faces an unresolved child-migration crisis. Immigration would become a signal topic in the fall elections, and given that Obama’s handling of the issue has slipped to just 31%, that wouldn’t necessarily favor the President’s party. It would likely damage vulnerable Democratic incumbents in red states, including several whose re-election could determine control of the Senate. And Congress’s incipient failure to reach an agreement on an emergency supplemental bill to address the border crisis muddies the waters even further.

At the same time, Obama will be pilloried by Republicans no matter what he does. Despite the short-term political consequences, in the long run a bold stroke could help cement the Democratic Party’s ties with the vital and fast-growing Hispanic voting bloc. And it would be a legacy for Obama, a cautious chief executive whose presidency has largely been shaped by events outside his control. In the case of immigration, he has the capacity to ease the pain felt by millions with the stroke of a pen.

“There are two ways this could go,” says Fitz of the Center for American Progress. Obama will be remembered as either “the deporter-in-chief, or the great emancipator. Those are the two potential legacies.”

With reporting by Alex Rogers and Zeke J. Miller/Washington

TIME Religion

Border Crisis: Central American Churches Try to Keep Children Home

Members of a Catholic church in a small town along the Guatemala and Mexico border hold a special mass celebrating the Virgin of Shelter.
Members of a Catholic church in El Pedregal, a small town along the Guatemala and Mexico border, hold a special Mass celebrating the Virgin of Shelter for undocumented migrants passing through their town, July 4, 2014. Meridith Kohut—The New York Times/Redux

Pastors in the United States and across Central America and Mexico have a new message: do not send kids to the border.

Thousands of children continue to cross the US-Mexico border without parents, and a growing group of Hispanic Christian pastors is urging churches across Central America to keep their children from making the trip. Their goal is ambitious: zero unaccompanied minors at the border by the end of the year.

The National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference/CONELA, a Hispanic Christian network that serves more than 40,000 churches in the US and 500,000 worldwide, is spearheading the campaign along with three other US-based faith organizations, Buckner International, Convoy of Hope, and Somebody Cares International. Together they hope to mobilize their member churches and partners in Central and South America to stop the children’s migration. “I believe it is wrong for parents to send children to the US border when the primary protective firewall for these children lies in a loving Christ-filled home where faith, family and education stand prevalent,” Samuel Rodriguez, president of NHCLC/CONELA, explains. “Correspondingly, as a nation and as people of faith, we must serve, heal and minister to those that have arrived in our nation because theirs, according to Jesus, is the kingdom of heaven.”

For now, the coalition is spreading the message primarily from pulpits and via a media campaign. The group launched a new website, ForHisChildren.net, on Wednesday, and is also beginning a radio ad campaign targeting some 500 radio stations, both secular and Christian, in Central and South America. Their message is direct: “How can we best protect our children? By making Christ the center of our homes, for a family filled with faith, hope and love stands as the primary deterrent against gangs, drugs and violence,” one of the Spanish ads says. “Keep your children home. Do not send them to the US border rather declare like Joshua, ‘As for me and my house, we shall serve The Lord.’”

NHCLC/CONELA leaders took this message to a gathering of 2,000 church leaders from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, in Guadalajara, Mexico, on July 10. The risk and likelihood of physical and psychological hardship, sexual abuse, and gang involvement, Rodriguez explained to the pastors there, outweighs the perceived benefits of letting children try to enter the United States. He asked pastors to share this message from their own pulpits: “Con Fe en Cristo y la familia junta; nuestros ninos tienen un future,” which translates as, “With faith in Christ and the family together, our children have a future.”

Beyond the humanitarian crisis at the border, the US faith leaders have political incentive to advise constituents to keep kids at home—vast numbers of migrating children continue to complicate the political challenge of passing immigration reform, which the leaders support. From October through the end of June, nearly 60,000 unaccompanied children were apprehended crossing the US border, and nearly all were from Central American and Mexico. The number of children under age 12 who have been caught at the border has more than doubled this fiscal year over last year, according to data obtained by the Pew Research Center. Earlier this week, NHCLC members met with White House officials and, separately, with Senator Ted Cruz to share their recent efforts to prevent children from illegally coming to the US.

Fermín García, pastor of the 7,000-member strong church Grupo Unidad Cristiana de México (Christian Unity Group of Mexico) in Tijuana, leads the NHCLC Mexico chapter, which includes thousands of Church of God, Assemblies of God, Foursquare and Methodist churches. He is working to spread the message across Mexico pastor to pastor, and this week he met with leaders of the Foursquare denomination at their national convention in Baja California to give them copies of the media spots to share with their local churches. Biblical principles, he explains, are what ultimately change kids lives, and that’s one of the reasons it is so important for pastors to spread the keep-kids-home message. “Parents don’t want children to fall into gangs or with poverty, unfortunately it seems they are finding the same thing, only now away from their family,” Garcia says. “Changes come with hearts being changed, not with money.”

Costa Rican pastor Ricardo Castillo Medina, who serves as president of the Hispanic Federation of the Assemblies of God, was initially surprised to learn of the campaign, but he quickly joined and helped to coordinate awareness and humanitarian aid for children. His network in the most vulnerable immigration zones is large—2,300 churches in El Salvador, 1,750 in Honduras, 2,600 in Guatemala, 5,000 in Mexico. The churches in his network, he says, now have instructions to share messages to keep kids home with their communities. Families need to know, he explains via email, that the risks involved for children seeking the American dream could turn it into a nightmare. “We can avoid children suffering abuse and exposure to inhumane conditions, and besides that it is a social-political problem,” he says.

Whether the overall campaign works on the broad scale remains to be seen. The motivating forces behind the children’s migration, like violence and poverty, have far from an easy fix. “Everything is still new and you can’t yet measure the impact,” Castillo says, “but I think we’re going to raise awareness so that children are not used.”

TIME Immigration

Photographer Captures Birds-Eye View of Border Crisis

From a helicopter, photographer John Moore offers a glimpse of the U.S. border and those who work to patrol it

Flying above the southern tip of Texas in a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol chopper, photographer John Moore has witnessed the humanitarian crisis firsthand.

Since October, over 57,000 children have crossed America’s southern border illegally. Arrests have more than doubled in the Rio Grande Valley since 2011, according to a University of Texas at El Paso report published in March. Children 12 years of age and under are the fastest growing group of unaccompanied minors, according to Pew. And while the numbers have slowed recently—the White House said Monday that 150 children were apprehended per day in the first two weeks of July, compared to 355 per day in June—immigrants are streaming over in numbers that are rocking the Obama Administration and straining its resources.

Two departments in charge of arresting and removing immigrants who are in the country illegally—Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection—will go broke by mid-September, according to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, and the Department of Health and Human Services, which temporarily houses such children, doesn’t have enough beds. A few weeks ago, Obama asked Congress for $3.7 billion to address the crisis; the Democratic-controlled Senate offered only $2.7 billion Wednesday and the House around $1.5 billion. But money isn’t the only problem. How to screen and process the children remains a major sticking point, and it’s looking like Congress will not pass a bill before members leave for the August recess.

Moore’s photographs—the shadows cast by the tall, rusty border fence; agents on the chase; one blue jean-clad immigrant handcuffed in a field of shrubs and sand; a gaggle of children walking before taken into custody; a patrol boat—focus on Ground Zero of the tragedy. They were taken on July 21 and 22 in McAllen and near a processing center in Falfurrias, Texas.

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