'Our Lampedusa': Nogales, Arizona

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Migration, joined by bishops on the border, will travel to Nogales, Arizona, March 30-April 1 to tour the U.S.-Mexico border and celebrate Mass on behalf of the close to 6,000 migrants who have died in the U.S. desert since 1998. According to the USCCB, the trip will highlight the human suffering caused by a broken immigration system, an aspect of the national immigration debate which is often ignored.

How many migrants have perished on the deserts of the nation's southwest will never be known, but since 1999, more than 2,300 bodies have been recovered. It is clear that since U.S. border policy emphasized closing off migrant choke points at urban crossings with more patrols and higher fencing, migrants have been driven to more perilous sojourns deeper in the deserts and far from any reliable source of water.


“What we fail to remember in this debate is the human aspect of immigration—that immigration is primarily about human beings, not economic or social issues,” said Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, auxiliary bishop of Seattle and chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration. “Those who have died—and those deported each day—have the same value and innate God-given dignity as all persons, yet we ignore their suffering and their deaths.”

The trip follows the example of Pope Francis, who, in his first trip outside of Rome, traveled to the Italian island of Lampedusa to remember African migrants who died attempting to reach Europe. During that trip, Pope Francis spoke about the “globalization of indifference” toward migrants and decried the “throwaway culture” that disposes of human beings in the pursuit of wealth.

“The U.S.-Mexico border is our Lampedusa,” Bishop Elizondo said. “Migrants in this hemisphere try to reach it, but often die in the attempt.”

Bishop Elizondo continued: “We exhibit our own indifference when we minimize or ignore this suffering and death, as if these people are not worth our attention. It degrades us as a nation.”

The bishops on the USCCB Committee on Migration will be joined by Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston and several border bishops. Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, Arizona, will host the delegation.

“Hopefully by highlighting the harsh impact the system has on our fellow human beings, our elected officials will be moved to reform it,” Bishop Elizondo said.

The Mass will be celebrated at 9 a.m. followed by a press conference at 10:30 a.m. on April 1.

Illustration: A poster (courtesy of Humane Borders) details the locations of deaths on the desert, warning migrants in Mexico who may be considering a desert crossing: "Don't do it! There is not enough water! Don't take the risk!"  

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Marie Rehbein
5 years ago
I find it hard to believe that the border policy has increased migrant deaths. Given that it funnels people into a narrower area, it may even have reduced them. When I lived in Arizona between 1996 and 2001, it was relatively ordinary news that bodies of migrants had been discovered in the desert. It was worst during the summer months, because people would migrate from tropical areas and be dropped off just over the border into extreme desert conditions. On one occasion, however, a panel truck or semi was abandoned without the compartment being unlocked first. More than 20 people, including children, died in the truck from the heat. The local Baptist church set up water stations in the desert but there were people who opposed them because to their way of thinking it only encouraged more migration. So, going to Nogales is good, but better yet would be some effort in those communities south of the US, where the migrants come from, to make their lives better so that they don't feel they have to migrate.
Egberto Bermudez
5 years ago
I believe that comprehensive immigration reform is a moral imperative. Archbishop José Gómez of LA has stated in his book "Immigration and the Next America: Renewing the Soul of Our Nation": “Immigration is more than immigration is about who we are as a nation.” This book is a must read for anybody concerned about immigration. John Allen wrote an excellent review of this book. http://ncronline.org/blogs/all-things-catholic/la-archbishop-gomez-pope-francis-fight-indifference-immigrants Let me quote a key passage of the book: “[…] America’s Catholic bishops support a comprehensive reform of our current immigration policies that secure our borders and give undocumented immigrants the chance to earn permanent residency and eventual citizenship. […] I also believe that until we can achieve a comprehensive reform, it makes good sense to impose a moratorium on deportations, except for persons guilty of violent or other serious crimes. Because of its grave impact on families, we need to stop deporting people whose only crime is that they are here without the proper papers. I also think our leaders need to work to encourage economic reforms in Latin America, especially in the region’s poorest countries. We need to find ways to target economic development to small business and agriculture so that far fewer Latinos will feel compelled to leave their families to seek jobs and money in other countries. Finally, I think we need to keep pushing for protection of the most vulnerable class of migrants—children and women, who often fall prey to unscrupulous traffickers and others.” In the first chapter of his book, bishop Gómez recognizes that NAFTA is an incomplete agreement because it deals with laws and policies that govern the flow of capital and money but fails to develop standards for the movement of laborers. “In the new economy, there are many safeguards for businesses and financial institutions, but few for workers.” Another strong advocate for immigration reform has been my own archbishop, Thomas Wenski, these men, Gómez and Wenski as well as all American bishops, support immigration reform not because they are politicians but as teachers of faith and morals. I agree with bishop Wenski: “Immigration is not just a political issue, but a fundamental human and moral issue.” http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/09/01/3596748/archbishop-wenski-immigration.html I would like to congratulate the University of Notre Dame for the prayer and fasting campaign for immigration for Ash Wedneday. http://president.nd.edu/news/46700-join-fr-john-i-jenkins-c-s-c-in-ash-wednesday-prayer-and-fasting-for-immigrants/


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