The Pope has called for greater protection for the thousands of migrant children who cross the border into the US each year.
In a letter read before the Mexico/Holy See Colloquium on Migration and Development on Monday, Francis underlined the plight of "tens of thousands of children who migrate alone, unaccompanied, to escape poverty and violence...in pursuit of a hope that in most cases turns out to be vain".
"Many people forced to emigrate suffer, and often, die tragically; many of their rights are violated, they are obliged to separate from their families and, unfortunately, continue to be the subject of racist and xenophobic attitudes," he noted in a statement read by Apostolic Nuncio Christophe Pierre.
"I repeat what I have affirmed in this year's Message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees: "A change of attitude towards migrants and refugees is needed on the part of everyone, moving away from attitudes of defensiveness and fear, indifference and marginalization – all typical of a throwaway culture – towards attitudes based on a culture of encounter, the only culture capable of building a better, more just and fraternal world".
The pontiff, who has long advocated for the rights of the poor and needy, went on to insist that while migration was once an emergency response, it has become "a hallmark of our society" in recent years, and is a growing issue, particularly for children.
According to the latest figures from the US Customs and Border Protection, over 57,000 unaccompanied "alien" children have crossed over the border from Central America so far this year – a marked increase from the 30,000 migrant children counted throughout the whole of 2013.
"They are increasing day by day," the Pontiff warned.
He urged that US authorities ensure the children are "welcomed and protected" but also suggested that policies be put in place to "inform people about the dangers of such a journey".
"This challenge demands the attention of the entire international community so that new forms of legal and secure migration may be adopted," Francis insisted, concluding his message by highlighting the importance of promoting development in the migrants' home countries.
His words have now been backed up by Episcopal minister David R Henson in a Patheos blog published yesterday, who writes that "treating child refugees like criminals is evil" and calls on the Christian community to respond with compassion.
Condemning the overwhelming arrival of thousands of children into the US as both an immigration and humanitarian crisis, Henson argues it is also "a profoundly spiritual crisis".
"It is a crisis of faith, and right now, we are not the bearers of liberty, hope, democracy, or good news. Rather, we are the bearers of evil," he warns.
"They are fleeing a culture of death. Treating them as anything other than refugees in need of asylum is evil... You cannot be a Christian and reject these children."