Article Published



Columns | Friday, January 14, 2022

Why is governor going after children?

Archbishop Wenski's column for the January 2022 edition of the Florida Catholic

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What do Bishop Felipe Estevez, Father Juan Sosa, Father Jose Espino, former Senator Mel Martinez, City Commissioner Joe Carollo, business and community leader Tony Argiz all have in common? They were all unaccompanied minors, part of the famed Operation Pedro Pan that assisted over 14,000 unaccompanied Cuban children who arrived in the United States in the early 1960s.

Sixty years ago, parents did what was unthinkable — they sent their children alone and unaccompanied to the United States. They were desperate — and 60 years later, their homeland, their beloved Cuba, is still not free; 60 years later we know that their fears were not misplaced. Sixty years ago, an Irish priest, Father Bryan O. Walsh, along with many others, did the impossible: resettling 14,000 minor children throughout the United States and eventually reuniting most of them with their parents.

In the original story of Peter Pan, Peter and the “lost boys” lived in neverland —and never grew up. The boys and girls of Operation Pedro Pan have not only grown up — they’ve grown old. But thanks to the freedom and opportunity provided by this great country they have also built successful careers and raised families. They embody the “American dream.”

So does Alberto Carvalho, outgoing Miami-Dade Public Schools superintendent (who will soon leave for Los Angeles and greater challenges there). He arrived alone to the U.S. from Portugal shortly after he graduated high school — and as an undocumented immigrant worked menial jobs and learned English as he struggled to get an education. While working in a restaurant, he was befriended by Republican Congressman E. Clay Shaw, who helped him get a student visa. The Congressman told him: “One’s future tomorrow is not limited by their condition today.”

Sixty years after Pedro Pan, 40 years after Carvalho’s arrival, there are new waves of unaccompanied minors. In fact, our Catholic Charities in the archdiocese has taken care of many of them without interruption during these last 60 years. We have a facility in Cutler Bay that can house 80 kids.

Today these young people — boys and girls, infants to teenagers — are coming mainly from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. But they are not much different from those Cuban children of 60 years ago. The desperation that has led the parents of today’s unaccompanied minors is not unlike the desperation that motivated Cuban parents 60 years ago.

And yes, these children do have parents. They are not abandoned street urchins. When I have celebrated Mass with them, the kids knew their prayers, they could sing the hymns. These are kids who were raised in homes where parents taught them to pray and took them to Mass.

Yet, now Governor Ron DeSantis is trying to stop all federal programs in Florida that serve these unaccompanied kids as well as services to Cubans (and Haitians, Venezuelans, etc.) released by the U.S. under its “parole” authority.

The governor’s executive order #2021-223 is wrong; and the legislature would be wrong to compound his error with legislation (SB 1808 and HB 1355) proposed by State Senator Aaron Bean (Fernandina Beach) and Representative John Snyder (Stuart). What they propose would hurt vulnerable populations but also would end up hurting the citizens of Florida.

The conditions that produce successive waves of unaccompanied minors, the unspeakable crimes that are committed against them as they journey from their homelands to the Texas border, cry out for justice. But where is the justice in blaming and punishing the victims?

Sixty years ago, Operation Pedro Pan resettled 14,000 unaccompanied minors in the U.S. Their contributions to America show that magnanimity rather than mean-spiritedness is a “best practice” in resolving immigration challenges.

E. Clay Shaw, the distinguished, long serving, conservative Republican Congressman from Fort Lauderdale, had it right: “One’s future tomorrow is not limited by their condition today.”

Why does the Governor wish to deny these children a future of hope?

Corrected: The correct number of the executive order is #2021-223, not 21-228, as originally stated in the column.

Comments from readers

Ana Rodriguez-Soto - 01/25/2022 02:28 PM
It seems many of the commenters are missing the point. This is about the governor's illogical attempt to shut down a shelter that takes care of unaccompanied minors because he doesn't like the fact that unaccompanied minors are coming in to the US. It's the equivalent of shutting down Camillus House because he doesn't like to see homeless people; or shutting down St. Luke's because he doesn't believe people should be addicted to drugs. That is not going to solve any of the underlying problems that lead to those situations. It will simply harm the people - and children - caught up in them. Also, the archbishop is not the only one criticizing this decision. Over 200 faith leaders in Florida have written a letter to the governor urging him to reverse this rule.
Alfredo Janson - 01/25/2022 12:41 PM
Children are children regardless where or how they are coming from."Blessed Are the Merciful, for They Will Receive Mercy".
Beth Watkins - 01/25/2022 11:00 AM
Dear Archbishop, as Christians we should all care about the vulnerable, especially children, but I wouldn't compare what Cuban parents did to save their children from a Stalinist regime. These 14,000 came legally, processed humanely and safely through the Catholic Church in the USA, knowing full well their identity and parents, with the prospects of all being reunited. These children crossing the border illegally are not equivalent to Peter Pan. They are dangerously placed into the hands of what amount to bandits and child traffickers, to suffer harsh conditions, neglect and abuse in their journey, ultimately done for money. Unlike the Cuban children 60 years ago, most of these children have no proper identification or do we truthfully know form where they come from and who are the parents. Yes, they should be treated with care once here in the USA but what needs to be done is address the problems in their country, make their governments accountable to these children, address the poverty and stop human trafficking. Parents should be discouraged from abandoning their little one into the hands of gangsters, criminals, and sex traffickers who do it all under the law. It is my opinion that what these parents are doing amounts to a grave form of abuse and neglect which needs to be addressed in their homeland, action taken to remedy and not excused.
Mary - 01/24/2022 01:08 PM
Wenski is at it again using his seat as a liberal soap box. Nothing he says has moral standing to me and thus does not have my respect. In this article he fails to state the truth about the legal process that the children of the Peter Pan program were required to meet in order to leave the totalitarian communist government of Cuba. Furthermore, I find it comical how he miserably attempts to be considered as a voice for the rights of children when he himself mandates vaccination on students in the ADOM schools. Moreover, he threatens to place unvaccinated teachers in "administrative leave without pay nor health insurance benefits' should they continue to be unvaccinated. Quite frankly the questions that must be answered are, "Why is Wenski going after children and mandating covid "vaccinations" and superseding the rights of parents?" and "Why is Wenski persecuting the ADOM unvaccinated teachers? Jeremiah 23:1
Maria - 01/24/2022 12:24 PM
Why is the Archbishop going after our Governor? The comparison the Archbishop is making is vastly off. By making this statement, it is the Archbishop that is harming children….not recognizing the serious, real issues going on today such as child-trafficking. I have many dear, good friends that arrived via Peter Pan flights and it is an extremely different circumstance. The current border situation is extremely harmful to all those crossing the border. It is embarrassing that the Archbishop does not have a clear understanding of the truth and is fully committed to a political narrative. Archbishop when are you going to visit the border? When are you going to research the horrors that are happening as a result of the border flood and child trafficking? It is easier for you to sit back and expand on your selected narrative.
R Pino - 01/24/2022 09:19 AM
The comparison is shameful and the silence in not addressing the corrupt leaderships that cause hardship and separation of families is complicit. Loving one another starts within one’s home and country, not only abroad. Jesus was very explicit about the Luke warm.
LUis - 01/24/2022 09:19 AM
This letter by the archbishop is misleading in so many ways that it is disturbing! Cherry picking facts to to fit your narrative and financial gains is why many practicing Catholics are leaving the Church. Again the archbishop as the pope chose politics over faith religion! Ask yourself why does the archbishop take this stance in his suppose attack on a governor trying to fix the failures of elected political leaders? Did the archbishop and church have the same stance of protecting many kids that were molested by many of these same leaders? Should we bring up the hush money paid out by the church to keep these kids silent? What’s the objective here? It’s a lie to say all those kids have parents here in the US! There is financial gain by the church running these programs. The church actions are mainly financial it’s not about the kids! Please spare us of your dishonesty to the community. There is a lot more to this than what the archbishop letter states. Is the archbishop as horrified with the abortion laws presented by the current administration in Washington? Sad to see some of these leaders destroying the Catholic Church!
Marge T. - 01/24/2022 09:13 AM
Let me guess: this column was written in anticipation of the ABCD campaign. Presumable the ABCD video will mention that it is our responsibility to take care of these children and use their sweet faces to manipulate the faithful to give money? If only he had spoken as forcefully against Biden and his abortion stance during election season...
Rene Cruz - 01/24/2022 08:28 AM
Equating pedro pan freedom flights with countries that have free governments to either care or not care for their citizens is a comparison to serve the archbishops view out of convenience and more apples to oranges than anything else, what is going on?... why not send missionaries to those countries to the source of the trouble, or do we not have Catholic churches/charities/parishes there??
Tammy - 01/24/2022 08:09 AM
It is incredibly clear that Archbishop Wenski is one-sided and political. The information he is promoting is politically motivated and not based on facts. Archbishop Wenski is pulling at YOUR well founded desires and emotions to be a good Catholic by helping immigrants. However be very careful and discern since what you are hearing is not based on freedom, truth, and true Justice. It is the Archbishop’s personal affiliation to leftist, socialist ideology. His stance for all decisions that affect our Catholic community are compromised by political views and political ideologies that are socialist. God is truth and when you are ONLY presenting a narrative that suits your personal ideology….you are clearly revealing your agenda not the truth. Sadly ADOM is fully engaged in a political agendA. I thank God for revealing this more and more everyday. This article from the Archbishop attacking the Governor with half-truths is a perfect example of what we, the faithful should never do. This article further scatters the faithful on political sides and perpetuates half-truths. JEREMIAH 23:1 WOE TO THE SHEPHERDS THAT SCATTER AND DESTROY THE SHEEP OF MY PASTURE!
Katherine - 01/22/2022 07:35 PM
A better point would be to call out the indifference of policitian's that allow this unorganized migration to happen. This situation cannot be compared to Pedro Pan, where visa requirements for entrance into the US were waived. There was collaborative effort of 110 Catholic Charities agencies in 35 states to assist 14,000 children aged 6-16. That is almost the average number of unaccompanied minors entering on a monthly basis! How is it humane to continue supporting the trafficking of vulnerable children and adults? Do we continue to accept that our lawmakers cannot resolve the immigration challenges that will actually allow people to enter in a humane and dignified way? Why are we shipping them into communities unannounced, stigmatizing them further? How does this bring hope to a community that is already lacking resources and whose hands are tied by the fact that they cannot help immigrants arriving with illegal or no status? How is attacking the Governor going to change these circumstances that he did not cause? That sounds a bit mean-spirited to me.
Pat - 01/21/2022 05:03 PM
What Archbishop Wenski is saying is not about conservative or liberal. It is the message of Jesus. Thank you Archbishop Wenski for reminding us about what this is all about: following the example of Jesus.
Antonio Fernandez - 01/21/2022 09:11 AM
Dear Arch. Thomas Wenski, thanks for your words in support of the efforts of our local Church to protect and provide shelter to those in need regardless their race or place of birth. God bless you for your continuing efforts. Thanks!
Ashley - 01/20/2022 08:47 PM
There is nothing wrong with wanting to stop the death and trauma of human trafficking. This goes double when it concerns children. Everyday children are raped, killed, kidnapped, used as mules etc. Gov. Desantis is not trying to take away opportunities but rather stop the abuse. The more you accept people who make these terrible trips instead of going through the proper channels the more will come. The more that come the more you fund dictators and gangers who profit from these atrocities. The more they profit the worse it will get for the ones left behind. Not only will it overwhelm the system but also cause more death and trauma that you do not want to admit. Just the other day a young child drowned in the Rio Grand. No one is saying the church cannot continue to help the children that come but it is not your place to make policy decisions that will effect the citizens of this county or children being used and abused. You speak without understanding the implications of what this will do to the children coming over. You compare 60 years ago to today when they are nothing alike. We cannot even compare things from 10 years ago to today because there have been so many changes. You are narrow minded and prideful and don't know how to admit when you are wrong. You will do no one any good if ay the end of the day this country becomes just like the rest. There will be no escape at that point so stop trying to push a global agenda. Instead encourage each person to do their own part. There are many children right here that have no home, no education, no family. With the arm and a leg you charge for private school you would think the archdiocese would have solved the homelessness issue in Miami. Desantis is a heavy Pro-life Governor on top of it all.
Silvia - 01/20/2022 07:58 PM
I agree with you Archbishop. We Christians , must always ask ourselves: What would Jesus do???
Luis Barzana - 01/20/2022 12:34 PM
Neida D Perez - 01/20/2022 10:43 AM
My greatest respect and gratitude to the Archbishop and some of the Peter Pan generation. I beg you, in the name of Christ, to investigate attacks on the rights of other people, other groups. Can't remember the quote, but all rights are in danger when one group is attacked. I have witnessed all the good works of the ABCD and I gladly contribute.
Paul Wierichs, C P - 01/20/2022 10:33 AM
Great article Archbishop. Needed to be said. We seem to forget that we are all immigrants from Ireland and The Netherlands for my family.
Joseph - 01/19/2022 04:47 PM
Why is Archbishop going after his faithful? What do nearly all people who attend mass at churches throughout the Archdiocese have in common? They are almost all American citizens. Yet, Archbishop (and known liberal) Thomas Wenski chooses to play a politically divisive game and distort Governor DeSantis's actions to control illegal human trafficking. This coincides with the Archbishop promulgating the panic narrative surrounding COVID-19 and forcing his faithful to wear muzzles, not participate in the sign of peace, and worst of all not receive the precious blood. This is contrary to FL law and unreasonable, dictatorial, and anti-American. Shame on you for publishing this false narrative and trying to divide. The alternative to pro-Life Ron DeSantis is pro-Murder Nikki Fried.
Carlos - 01/19/2022 10:12 AM
Thank you to Archbishop Wenski and the Archdiocese for its continued support of undocumented children - especially in this community which is primarily made up of immigrants. It is shameful to pick on "scapegoats" as this current State administration does - all in the name of advancing his political desires. This is not about human trafficking - it is about politics. By the way, as a proud alum (and parent of a child in an ADOM Catholic school), the work of ADOM schools is amazing! Of course, some would rather attack ADOM schools in the name of advancing secular charter schools. Keep up the good work Dr. Rigg!
Martha - 01/18/2022 10:05 PM
this is shameful. That the Archbishop is turning a blind eye on what this illegal trade of children really is. It has been shown by investigations that this is about human trafficking!! Instead of continue attacking real Catholic politicians who do the right thing, the bishop should focus on the real issues like condemn and fight against abortion, homosexuality and human trafficking. Also in improving Catholic education that it is terrible!!!

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