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 migration

Central American Migrants Travel North, Hoping to Find Homes in U.S.

Families and children are migrating to the U.S. in huge numbers after hearing they will not be turned away. Associated Press photographer Rebecca Blackwell has been following Central American migrants as they travel through Mexico toward the United States

Unaccompanied child immigrants from Central America have poured across the southern U.S. border in recent months. Mostly spurred by violence and poor economic conditions in Central America, the migrants also believe changes in U.S. immigration policy will allow them to stay.

They aren’t completely wrong. Because border facilities are so overwhelmed, authorities often release children into the care of relatives already in the U.S. and allow mothers with children to enter the country with a notice to appear in immigration court. Detentions of unaccompanied minors at the U.S. border have more than tripled since 2011, the Associated Press reports.

Government officials have hotly debated what to do with the increasing number of Central American migrants, but no easy solution has been found.

TIME Religion

Pope for Legal Dope? Still Nope.

Pope Israel
Pope Francis listens to a speech during his meeting with Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef and Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau, at the Heichal Shlomo center in Jerusalem on May 26, 2014 Andrew Medichini—AP

The Holy Father is standing firm against recreational drugs, even as his home continent pushes for legalization

Pope Francis is not changing his mind about recreational drug use or marijuana legalization. On Friday morning, the Holy Father made his anti-pot position clear to the International Drug Enforcement Conference in Rome. “Let me state this in the clearest terms possible: the problem of drug use is not solved with drugs!” the Pope said. “Drug addiction is an evil, and with evil there can be no yielding or compromise.”

Legalization, he continued, should be a no-go. “Attempts, however limited, to legalize so-called ‘recreational drugs,’ are not only highly questionable from a legislative standpoint, but they fail to produce the desired effects,” he said.

It is far from a new position, either for Francis or the Vatican. In 2001, the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Health Care urged governments to resist legalization even on soft drugs in the manual “Church, Drugs, and Drug Addiction,” published at the request of John Paul II. Francis said no to legalization as a bishop in Argentina when he was still Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio. Last summer, Pope Francis condemned legalization when he was in Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day. “The scourge of drug trafficking, that favors violence and sows the seeds of suffering and death, requires of society as a whole an act of courage,” he told the crowd, adding that legalization would not yield “a reduction in the spread and influence of drug addiction.”

The Pope’s position is similar to the Dalai Lama’s, who also warns against recreational use. “These kinds of substances are generally considered poison, very bad,” he told TIME in February. “The ability to judge reality is something very unique. Our brain is something very special. So if that is damaged, that’s awful. So alcohol and drugs are very bad.”

Francis’ reasoning is not so much about drugs themselves as about the broader suffering they cause, not just for individuals, but also for communities. Drugs dependencies can both hurt relationships and trap people in poverty. “To say this ‘no,’ one has to say ‘yes’ to life, ‘yes’ to love, ‘yes’ to others, ‘yes’ to education, ‘yes’ to greater job opportunities,” the Pope explained. “If we say ‘yes’ to all these things, there will be no room for illicit drugs, for alcohol abuse, for other forms of addiction.”

He is particularly concerned about their impact on young people. “The scourge of drug use continues to spread inexorably, fed by a deplorable commerce which transcends national and continental borders,” he said. “As a result, the lives of more and more young people and adolescents are in danger.”

Even if his words are not new, it is still a significant stand for the first Pope from Latin America to take. The region has been at the forefront of the drug wars for years, and many lawmakers there have been arguing that legalization and regulation are actually the way out of the cycle of violence and poverty associated with the trade.

Last year Uruguay became the first country in the world to legalize the marijuana trade—growing, selling, smoking—to try to push traffickers out to the pot business, and President José “Pepe” Mujica was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Argentina, Francis’ home, decriminalized possession of controlled substances in 2009, and Catholic priest Juan Carlos Molina, who serves as the country’s drug czar, called for a debate about whether or not Argentina should follow Uruguay’s example. In Brazil trafficking the drug is criminal but personal use is not punished. Mexico decriminalized small amounts of marijuana in 2009.

Francis may not have directly taken on these policies this morning, it is hard to imagine they are far from his mind, especially since South America is in the global spotlight for the World Cup games. The last major time he spoke out against recreational drugs was also when Rio de Janiero was an international focus for World Youth Day. It’s another reminder that the world’s top Catholic leader knows how to play the political game.

TIME

This Is How You Resurrect America’s Dying Malls

+ READ ARTICLE

The American mall of the future may look a lot like the kinds of public markets traditionally found in towns and cities in the developing world.

The recession and the rise of e-commerce have left many U.S. shopping malls nearly vacant or completely dead. A new mall hasn’t been built in the United States since 2006, and growth in brick-and-mortar shopping centers has slowed to a crawl. Business owners and mall managers are looking for ways to bring their properties back to life — and they increasingly they see Hispanics as a vital part of the solution.

One in every six Americans is Hispanic, up from one in sixteen in 1980. The Hispanic population in the U.S. today is over 52 million and counting. And with a buying power of $1.2 trillion, Hispanic consumers are fast becoming a valued prize to be won by American businesses.

But some question whether Hispanic consumers are really the answer. The children of immigrants are assimilating fast, breaking free of their parents’ old-world values. Many don’t want to shop in Hispanic malls or listen to mariachi music. Will Hispanics lose their economic clout as their children evaporate into the American cultural cloud, or will the Hispanic consumer become the new American consumer?

TIME Cuba

Report: U.S. Officials Created a ‘Cuban Twitter’ to Overthrow Castro

Washington covertly made ZunZuneo, Cuban slang for a hummingbird's tweet, to woo mobile users with news stories. Once the platform's audience would balloon, the supposed—and failed—goal was to flood it with “content aimed at inspiring Cubans to organize ‘smart mobs'

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Fifty-three years after the C.I.A. failed to overthrow Fidel Castro’s government with a group of armed Cuban exiles at the Bay of Pigs, the U.S. government is still trying to dislodge the Caribbean island’s communist regime, according to a new report.

The Associated Press, citing documents and people involved in the project, reports the U.S. government has been working covert backchannels with aid agencies funneling money through front companies for years to create a social media platform designed to “renegotiate the balance of power between the state and society.”

The social media platform called ZunZuneo, Cuban slang for a hummingbird’s tweet, was designed to entice the country’s mobile users with non-controversial news stories. Later, once the platform had engaged hundreds of thousands of followers, ZunZuneo was then supposed to be flooded with “content aimed at inspiring Cubans to organize ‘smart mobs.’”

During its peak, the service attracted 40,000 followers, but fizzled out due to funding issues among the front companies in 2012. In the end, the U.S. government’s Cuban social media platform failed to incite a revolution and Fidel’s brother Raul Castro remains firmly in power.

[AP]

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