Marygrove president to Obama: Recognize child refugees and we’ll provide aid

Marygrove College President David Fike addresses a news conference July 17 in which he said the Detroit-based Catholic college would offer housing, food and education to young people fleeing violence in Central America in President Barack Obama recognizes them as refugees. (Photos by Mike Stechschulte, The Michigan Catholic)

Marygrove College President David Fike addresses a news conference July 17 in which he said the Detroit-based Catholic college would offer housing, food and education to young people fleeing violence in Central America if President Barack Obama recognizes them as refugees and stop efforts to fast-track their deportation. (Photos by Mike Stechschulte, The Michigan Catholic)

DETROIT — As tens of thousands of Central American children and teenagers flood across the U.S.-Mexico border to escape escalating drug violence at home, the president of a Catholic college in Detroit wants to be a beacon of hope.

That is, if the president of the United States will allow him to be.

The president of Marygrove College, David Fike, said July 17 the college would be the first in the nation to offer food, shelter and education to the young migrants if President Barack Obama would recognize them as refugees.

Fike, who was joined by others including Detroit Auxiliary Bishop Arturo Cepeda and Sr. Mary Jane Herb, president of the Monroe-based Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, expressed frustration during a news conference at Obama’s “lack of moral leadership on an issue that literally screams for moral leadership.”

Fike said Marygrove would house refugees 16-24 years old in as many as 20 rooms of its newly renovated residence hall, as well as provide scholarships for college-ready refugees, but would not be part of a “stalling game” of temporary housing if the president continues to advocate deportation.

“The current crisis has all of the classic markings of a refugee crisis,” said Fike, who at one point during the news conference became choked up as he lamented the “dehumanization” of those seeking refuge by politicians and commentators.

“We are witnessing thousands of women, children and young people fleeing their homes, seeking safe haven elsewhere, because they are under threat at home,” he said, adding that refugees aren’t just seeking asylum in the U.S., but in other Latin American countries as well.

Detroit Auxiliary Bishop Arturo Cepeda gives the opening invocation during the news conference. Bishop Cepeda said he felt "solidarity" with Pope Francis and bishops on the southern U.S. border in calling for compassion and aid for child refugees.

Detroit Auxiliary Bishop Arturo Cepeda gives the opening invocation during the news conference. Bishop Cepeda said he felt “solidarity” with Pope Francis and bishops on the southern U.S. border in calling for compassion and aid for child refugees.

“The only difference in this instance is that the threat to civilians is not from standing armies engaged in traditional combat or organized guerilla warfare,” Fike said, but from “brutal and violent gangs, extortionists and traffickers.”

More than 57,000 children have entered the U.S. alone since the crisis began late last year. On July 16, even Pope Francis called for “urgent intervention” to help them.

Bishop Cepeda called for solidarity with the pope and bishops on the southern border in responding with charity and love to those seeking a place to escape the danger.

“We are called upon to be the welcoming face and voice of Christ for people, especially for children who are in need,” Bishop Cepeda said. “Marygrove has taken this to heart.”

Fike said those who criticize the college for helping refugees while so many Detroiters remain in need are “wrong to characterize our action as ‘either-or,’” noting that the college continues to provide more than $6 million in scholarships each year to students, most of whom are low-income Detroit natives.

“We are a faith-filled institution, and for us, Jesus does not call upon us to respond to our fellow human beings’ needs out of fear and selfishness,” he said.

Fike added that while Marygrove is the first college to publicly offer aid and shelter for the refugees, he doesn’t expect it to stand alone for long. “The lives of thousands of children and young people are at risk,” he said. “We all know that we can’t be silent in that situation.”

In fact, Marygrove isn’t alone in its offer to help. The Archdiocese of Chicago announced July 16 it has submitted a proposal to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to provide housing and counseling to more than 400 minor migrants, and Saginaw Bishop Joseph Cistone offered his support to an effort to house child refugees in Vassar.

While working with the University of Central America in El Salvador during his younger years, Fike said he witnessed close friends and colleagues murdered “because they were labeled as less than human.”

“I’ve seen and experienced the results of dehumanization, and I don’t like it,” Fike said. “It denies our better selves, and makes us smaller and meaner as a country.”

Fike called again for compassion and mercy on the part of Americans in talking about and comprehending the plight of those seeking shelter.

“They’re traumatized by violence and fear,” Fike said. “Traumatized the same way we would be if we experienced what they’ve had to go through.”

Marygrove College, whose main campus sits on 53 acres in northwest Detroit, was founded by the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) in 1905 and continues to operate as an independent Catholic liberal arts college.

Sr. Herb, the order’s president, said during the news conference she hoped Marygrove’s action would spur other Catholic and non-Catholic colleges to also offer aid. “These refugees are our brothers and sisters,” she said.


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