Pope urges protection of C. American migrant children

Pope Francis called Monday for urgent action to protect and care for the tens of thousands of unaccompanied children migrating from Central America and Mexico to the United States.

In a letter read by the Vatican envoy to Mexico, the pope said "such a humanitarian emergency demands as a first urgent measure that these minors be protected and duly taken in."

Papal envoy Christophe Pierre read the letter, dated July 11, at a conference organized by Mexico and the Vatican on international migration and development, which was attended by the Vatican's secretary of state Pietro Parolin.

Also invited to attend the conference were the foreign ministers of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

In his message, Francis noted that all migrants face threats but he stressed the particular dangers to the growing tide of children migrating to the United States.

"This is a category of migrants from Central America and Mexico itself who cross the border with the United States under extreme conditions and in pursuit of a hope that in most cases turns out to be vain," the pope said.

He demanded "the attention of the international community (be paid) to this challenge" and that measures be taken by the countries involved.

The pontiff called for policies to inform the public of the dangers of the trip north and to promote development of the migrants' countries of origin.

US President Barack Obama has asked the US Congress for $3.7 billion to deal with the crisis but has encountered resistance from Republican lawmakers.

US authorities have detained some 57,000 unaccompanied minors since October, twice the number from the same period a year ago.

Mexico's National Institute of Migration said Mexican authorities have picked up 8,000 child migrants in the first five months of the year, and more than half of them were traveling by themselves.

"Whether they are traveling because of poverty, or violence, or with the hope of reuniting with relatives on the other side of the border, it is urgent to protect them and help them because their vulnerability is greater and they are defenseless against any abuse or misfortune," Parolin told the conference.

Migrants traveling through Mexico run a gauntlet of dangers -- robberies, kidnapping, abuse by officials and the predations of drug gangs, which have been linked to migrant massacres.

The Vatican secretary of state emphasized that no single state or institution has the resources to get to the root of these problems, so common strategies must be pursued regionally and globally.

Mexican Foreign Minister Jose Antonio Meade said the problem was more acute, and required deeper thinking, now that it has "a child's face."