The 15-year-old girl approached the immigration officer. With her were her two younger brothers; her parents were somewhere over the border, waiting for her. She had traveled hundreds of miles to reach the United States, and she hoped that this was the start of a better life for her whole family.

This unaccompanied minor was not from Central America. Her name was Annie Moore, and she and her brothers were Irish. They were the first people in line the opening day of the immigration station at Ellis Island on Jan. 1, 1892 — three of many unaccompanied minors who have come to our land seeking refuge and opportunity.

In the past year, tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors from Central America have fled violence and poverty at home to seek a new life in the United States. More than 90,000 refugees are expected by September. Although we are more than 2,000 miles from the border with Mexico, we know that some of these refugees will end up here in Maine; to date, eight children have been placed in our state. As religious leaders, we are proud to welcome them.

While our various faith traditions disagree on specific doctrines, we agree on many fundamental principles. All of our traditions teach us that we are called to “welcome the stranger” and provide “radical hospitality” to those in need.

We remember Abraham and Sarah, who lived in a tent open on four sides so that they could extend hospitality to people who were passing by. We recall the Good Samaritan, who stopped when he saw a stranger in need, bandaged the man’s wounds and made sure he received the care he needed. Similarly, we believe that it is the right and faithful thing to do to embrace these children as we would our own.

As the children await a final resolution of their status, we would like to assure them and their families that we welcome them and are ready to provide support during this difficult time. If they or any additional children come to the Augusta area, we invite them to worship with our congregations, to meet with us personally and to view our religious communities as places of support. We would like to assure their parents and loved ones in Central America that with us their children will find a place to which they can turn during these difficult times.


We are heartened that all around our country, religious leaders and institutions are opening their doors during this time of crisis, working to assist refugees and to focus on the human need facing these children and their families. We, too, are from a variety of faith traditions: Baptist (the Rev. E Scott Dow), Catholic (Father Frank Morin), Episcopalian (the Rev. Rebecca Grant, the Rev. James L. Gill, the Rev. Alicia Kellogg, the Rev. David Matson), Jewish (Rabbi Erica Asch, Rabbi Susan Bulba Carvutto), Lutheran (the Rev. Erik Karas), Presbyterian (Pastor Rick Ness) and Unitarian Universalist (the Rev. F. Vernon Chandler, the Rev. Pam Gross, the Rev. Carie Johnsen). We are proud to add the religious voices of Maine clergy to this national call for humanity.

We invite the residents of the Augusta area, no matter what their faith tradition (if any), to join us in extending welcome. We call upon on our elected officials to work to fix the backlog in our immigration system that often causes children and their families to live in limbo for years until their final status is resolved.

We can only begin to imagine the horrible circumstances that would compel a family to send a child away in the desperate hope of protecting him or her. We pray that their parents know that their children are safe. We pray that these children may feel secure enough to tell the stories of the horrors they faced that caused them to flee — be it violence from drug cartels, forced prostitution, extreme poverty or murdered family members. We pray that these horrors may soon be resolved.

But until that day comes, with the love and compassion taught in our various faith traditions, we welcome them and any more children who may seek refuge in communities here in Maine.

Today, a statue of Annie Moore stands at Ellis Island, a reminder of the many unaccompanied children who sought refuge in our country. Near it stands the Statue of Liberty, which proclaims our own country’s vision of “radical hospitality”—”Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” May we all live up to that aspirational promise.

Rabbi Erica Asch serves at Temple Beth El, Augusta.

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