By Mary Wisniewski
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Roman Catholic officials in Chicago want to provide services, which may include housing, to undocumented immigrant children who have been pouring into the United States in recent months, church officials said on Wednesday.
The Archdiocese of Chicago, the third-largest Catholic diocese in the country with 2.3 million members, has submitted a proposal offering to help the children to the refugee resettlement office at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, spokeswoman Colleen Dolan said.
More than 400 unaccompanied minors caught crossing the Mexican border are being held at government shelters in Chicago, according to U.S. Senator Mark Kirk, an Illinois Republican.
The Heartland Alliance, an anti-poverty organization, is coordinating services for children in the Chicago area, but a surge in need has the government seeking proposals for more help by Aug. 6, Dolan said.
"The cardinal wants to be helpful, wants the archdiocese to be helpful," Dolan said of Cardinal Francis George. "Now we wait to see what they'd like us to do."
The archdiocese could provide housing and counseling, she said.
Bilingual Catholic Charities workers from Chicago are currently assisting immigrant children in Texas, Dolan said.
More than 52,000 children traveling alone from Central America have been detained at the U.S.-Mexico border since October, twice as many as in the same period a year earlier.
U.S. immigration officials say the crisis is being driven by poverty and gang violence in countries such as Honduras and El Salvador, as well as rumors spread by smugglers that children who reach the United States will be allowed to stay.
Pope Francis this week called for the refugee children to be welcomed and protected. Hispanics make up about one-third of the roughly 75 million Catholics in the United States.
(Editing by Eric Walsh)