FAYETTEVILLE -- Dozens of people here Monday joined the heated national debate surrounding thousands of children who recently crossed the country's southern border, saying compassion and love must overcome fear and hate.
More than 40 people, including Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan, gathered during the lunch hour near the John Paul Hammerschmidt Federal Building downtown. Ranging from school-age children to grandparents, they gathered donations for a border charity and urged U.S. officials to care for the immigrant children.
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For more information on Sacred Heart Catholic Church in McAllen, Texas, and its recent charity work for immigrants, go to
"In this city, we have an open door, an open mind and an open heart," Jordan said. "The right thing is to take care of these children."
More than 50,000 minors from Honduras, El Salvador and other countries south of Mexico have attempted to cross the border illegally since October, according to the federal government. Many are ferried by smugglers, while others made the 1,000-mile trek by foot.
Gang-related violence reigns in these children's home countries, according to multiple reports from the area. El Salvador's murder rate is the second-highest in the world, for example, according to the U.S. Department of State. Children, including infants, have been killed by at least the hundreds, sometimes reportedly by other children.
"These children only have two options now: either flee or die," said Fernando Garcia, president of Fayetteville's OMNI Center, which focuses on a range of social justice issues and organized Monday's rally.
"It's a national issue. It's an international issue," Garcia said, explaining why Fayetteville, 800 miles from the border, would become involved. "It's an issue about love."
The children must wait for a court hearing once they're detained and are straining border resources. President Barack Obama this month asked Congress for about $4 billion to ramp up border security, mount campaigns in Central America to discourage the illegal migration and to care for the children while they wait here.
Congressional Republicans have been reluctant to give the money, however, insisting Obama seal the border more tightly and speed up the children's deportations. Protesters across the country have gone further, gathering near holding centers for the children and some of their families and reportedly saying the children are diseased and dangerous.
"For these children, being pulled into this kind of situation where so much hate is being thrown around -- that's just the epitome of that fear that's gripped us," said Gladys Tiffany, OMNI's director. "It's beyond reason."
In response to those protests, OMNI encouraged participants Monday to skip lunch and donate their "lunch money" to Sacred Heart Catholic Church, which stands about six miles from the Mexican border in McAllen, Texas.
Hundreds of volunteers from multiple organizations are working at Sacred Heart to provide food, clothing and shelter to migrant children and families awaiting their hearings, according to the church's website and the Los Angeles Times.
Ronnie Floyd, senior pastor at Springdale's Cross Church and president of the Southern Baptist Convention, is expected to tour two Texas holding facilities today with other religious leaders, including the bishop over Sacred Heart. Floyd couldn't be reached for comment Monday afternoon because he was already traveling, according to his secretary.
More than $330 was collected at the rally Monday, OMNI members said. A few dollars per person is partly symbolic, Tiffany acknowledged, but she said the help can still make a tangible difference for Sacred Heart. A similar rally is planned for next Monday as well.
"It's on us," said David Garcia with Fayetteville Free Zone, another social justice group that participated in Monday's gathering. "If we won't do this, who will?"NW News on 07/22/2014