After more migrant deaths, U.S. bishops call for empathy and policy shifts at border
“One of God’s greatest commandments is to ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself,’” leading U.S. bishops said in an opinion piece for The Hill, a Washington-focused news and commentary site. “Following this commandment, we must remain a country that provides refuge for children and families fleeing violence and persecution or we have lost our core values as a nation.”
Alarmed by migrant deaths in recent weeks, Catholic bishops from both sides of the border expressed growing frustration with the Trump administration’s immigration and asylum policy. “These deaths are occurring because the United States is closing off access to asylum protection through policies and enforcement that send the clear and strong signal that you are not welcome,” the bishops said.
The op-ed, published on June 30, was written by the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston; its vice president, Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles; and Bishop Joe Vásquez of Austin, Tex., chairperson of the bishops’ Committee on Migration.
"It is within our capability as a nation to honor the humanity and basic needs of migrants in a way that does not compromise our nation’s security.”
The bishops were incensed by the drowning deaths of 23-month-old Angie Valeria and her father, Oscar Martinez, who perished together after being carried away by swift currents during an attempt to cross the Rio Grande on June 24. A photograph of their lifeless bodies on the bank of the river was picked up by newspapers around the world and shared widely on social media. The bishops also noted the death of 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin, who died of sepsis while in the custody of the Border Patrol in December.
The U.S.C.C.B. leadership was joined by Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, Tex., and Bishop Eugenio Lira Rugarcia of Matamoros, Mexico, in condemning the recent treatment of migrants at the border. “We offer our condolences to the families and loved ones of those who have died,” Bishops Flores and Lira Rugarcia said in a joint statement on June 28. “We recall that over the course of years countless persons have lost their lives in a similar manner, many whose names are known to God alone.”
In their op-ed, the U.S.C.C.B. leaders acknowledged concerns of state sovereignty but said that nations should find ways to assist migrants regardless. “We recognize the right of nations to control their borders and provide safety for citizens,” they said. “We also believe that, in the best of our nation’s traditions, it is within our capability as a nation to honor the humanity and basic needs of migrants in a way that does not compromise our nation’s security.”
The bishops noted the injustice of migrants, especially children, being used as proxies in a U.S. political battle “as they endure the brunt of life-altering scenarios and poor conditions.” They pressed for an end to the zero-tolerance policies of the Trump administration and urged Congress to “come up with a solution to these tragic realities and pass a comprehensive immigration reform plan that will include...immediate humanitarian relief.”
Bishop Flores and Bishop Rugarcia called for a renewed spirit of empathy and compassion toward migrants, saying, “As we recognize the good that many persons do for our migrant brothers and sisters, we invite everyone, governments and society, to be ever aware that migrants are persons like us; with dignity and rights, with needs, sorrows and hopes.”
On Sunday, June 30, Bishop Flores’s community of Brownsville held a vigil in remembrance of Angie Valeria and her father. This past weekend, their bodies were repatriated to El Salvador where they were buried on July 1 in a section of La Bermeja municipal cemetery in San Salvador named for the city’s patron, St. Óscar Romero.
[Material from Catholic News Service was used in this report]