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Pope Urges Protection for Unaccompanied Minors Flooding the Border

In letter, Francis says the children should be 'welcomed.'

While American politicians try to come up with a solution to the issue of illegal immigration, one head of state -- and the religious leader of more than 1 billion Catholics worldwide -- made his position on unaccompanied immigrant children clear: The U.S. needs to provide "safe and legal migration" for the minors.

In a Monday letter, Pope Francis urged "intervention" from the U.S. government to make sure "these children are welcomed and protected." He also called for sympathy, citing the children's desire to get to the United States "in pursuit of a hope that in most cases turns out to be vain." Francis also recalled the children's struggles as "they are forced to leave their families and unfortunately still subjected to racist and xenophobic attitudes."

The letter came as officials from the Vatican, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador attended the Holy See Conference on Human Mobility and Development in Mexico City Monday. While the Pope did not attend, a Vatican representative read his letter.

The pontiff also reiterated his sentiments from an August statement on the plight of immigrants and the role of immigration in the world, suggesting the need for a "change of attitude towards migrants and refugees by all." He also said more understanding toward immigrants is the "only way to build a more just world."

The immigration debate is growing more intense in the United States. In June, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson emphasized the children's plight, calling the situation a “vivid reminder that this is a humanitarian issue as much as it is a matter of border security." He pleaded with parents not to send their children to the United States under false hope, and with the governments of Central American countries to address the underlying conditions that are fueling the problem. He is also pressing for legal changes that would allow DHS to send the children back faster.

President Obama has recently taken a more active role in the debate, requesting more money for border protection and saying he will take steps to bypass Congress to secure the border. According to Homeland Security, over 50,000 minors entered the United States through Mexico since October. Customs and Border Protection estimates that 150,000 will attempt to cross the border in 2015. According to reports, Mexican authorities say they have picked up 8,000 child immigrants this year.

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