After more migrant deaths, U.S. bishops call for empathy and policy shifts at border

Mourners in Brownsville, Tex., honor Salvadoran migrant Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his 23 month-old daughter, Valeria, on a June 30 vigil. (CNS photo/Loren Elliott, Reuters)

“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.

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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.”

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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]

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
FRAN ABBOTT
4 months 2 weeks ago

I am glad the bishops are taking this stand, and I hope their message rings out from every pulpit in America on Sunday.

Alexei Michalenko
4 months 2 weeks ago

It's about time the bishops say something. Perhaps they're afraid they'll suffer the fate of John the Baptist. The case of migrants is MORE important than the cause that John took on. The silence of the bishops = death for too many. Jose, Maria and Jesus had better luck sneaking into Egypt.

Vincent Gaglione
4 months 2 weeks ago

"...from every pulpit in America on Sunday." From your lips to the Almighty's ears, because it will not happen unless the Almighty shouts in the Bishops' ears or, better yet, smacks them upside the head to get their attention to His message.

FRAN ABBOTT
4 months 2 weeks ago

Just hoping some of our good bishops are reading these comments!!!

Mike Macrie
4 months 1 week ago

From every pulpit this message will not be heard. Over half of the Parishioners are Trump Supporters who would be offended and many would go after the Pastors for bringing it up. The Bishops and Pastors would not dare bring this topic up when they are asking for money to repair their Churches, Schools and maintain their Social Outreach programs. The Messages can be written in articles and Catholic Magazines but don’t expect Bishops and Pastors to stand in the line of Fire in front of Parishioners.
This is the reality, the well meaning message never gets down to the Pews.

Nora Bolcon
4 months 1 week ago

You mean the bishops that supported Trump getting elected in 2016 and all their nice, white, Catholic conservative rich followers? Those bishops were pleading for more compassion and humane treatment of refugees?

I am sure that went something like this: We bishops are publicly stating that what you Mr. Trump are allowing to happen on the border is not very nice and we think you should do better. However, of course we will still support you as long as you continue to attack women's rights and continue to demonize all forms of feminism - So how big a check did you need from each of us bishops for your 2020 campaign and what would you like us to say in sermons to get folks to re-elect you? Ok - sure thing - you have whatever you need from us Mr. President.

Rudolph Koser
4 months 2 weeks ago

The bishops keep issuing statements which continue to be ignored by government and Trumper Catholics. How about the individual bishops sitting in the rep offices in their dioceses and calling the press. They certainly mobilize for the prolife march. Until I see some action, it's just thoughts and prayers.

Bernard Survil
4 months 2 weeks ago

Fr. Survil of Greensburg Dio. invites Fr. Koser of Greensburg Dio. to gather other of us Greensburg Dio. priests to talk with Bishop Malesic about this. bsurvil@uscatholicpriests.us Ph: 724-523-0291

FRAN ABBOTT
4 months 1 week ago

BRAVO!!!!

Alice Pat
4 months 2 weeks ago

Thank you bishops. Well said.

JR Cosgrove
4 months 2 weeks ago

Maybe the finger should be pointed at those who encourage the migrants. The migration can not possibly work so why Is it encouraged? Much of Latin America lives under oppressive policies set up by the Church and elites hundreds of years ago. The solution is to change that but the Church in Latin America wants to institute an even worse system. The Church is the problem because they are involved in politics where they have no expertise. They should listen to Christ.

L Hoover
4 months 2 weeks ago

We have laws plus international standards have been established. Citizens of other countries who fear for their lives have the right to apply to the U.S. for asylum. What part of these laws, norms, standards and values do you not understand? How about reading up before pointing fingers?

JR Cosgrove
4 months 2 weeks ago

You have just given carte blanche to about 4 billion people to come to the United States. As I said it’s not possible. What part of this do you not understand? Maybe you should read more.
I assume by your self proclaimed knowledge that you object to the reference to the dead father and daughter since they were not seeking asylum

Judith Jordan
4 months 2 weeks ago

J Cosgrove---
Regardless of how one feels about immigration, our treatment of immigrants ,and especially their children, in our lock up facilities at the border is deplorable, immoral, and breaks international laws against humanity.

JR Cosgrove
4 months 2 weeks ago

What inhumanity are you talking about? What international laws? Who makes these laws that apply to the United States that is not of this country? Who started the practices to handle minors crossing the border illegally? What is the best way to prevent the illegal border crossings? Why aren’t those who encourage the border crossings to blame? Why haven’t the Democrats gone after the cartels?

JR Cosgrove
4 months 2 weeks ago

By the way I’m for immigration but legally. I am also for establishing systems that would provide positive experiences for people in these countries that are migrating. I don’t see either the Catholic Church or the Democratic Party wanting to do so. The Church has been complicit in the conditions leading to the desire to leave. They are certainly not the only ones but nothing the Catholic Church has done in these countries has helped. Instead they criticize the one system that has changed the world for the better.

Judith Jordan
4 months 2 weeks ago

J Cosgrove---
You say you do not see the Democratic Party doing anything about a good experience for migrants. Since 1995, the Democrats have NOT controlled both Houses of Congress except for 2009 to 2011---two years! The last immigration bills were passed in 1986 and 1990 when the Dems held both Houses and the presidents were Reagan and Bush, Sr. respectively. When the Republicans had Congress and the presidency, they did not pass an immigration bill. Why is that? You keep blaming the Dems for things when the Republicans are in power. Trump had a Republican Congress his first two years and he did nothing about passing an immigration bill, including his fantasy wall.

JR Cosgrove
4 months 2 weeks ago

Maybe you should do some research. See what senator Schumer and Nancy Pelosi said about illegal immigration during the times you mention. You never fail to support my point by providing irrelevant or bogus information.

Rudolph Koser
4 months 1 week ago

Maybe if you would check the history books. Many of the policies of the US in Central and South America are now bearing their poisonous fruit -- Check out United Fruit Company in Guatemala or Iran-Contra from St Reagan in Nicaragua or the unrest that occured in El Salvador. Mr Cosgrove use facts please not your neo-conservative lens.

JR Cosgrove
4 months 1 week ago

The problems are elsewhere. It has to do with the social structure in these countries that has favored a small elite since their very beginning. They were never functional countries so to blame it on United Fruit is absurd. They just took advantage of the dysfunctional nature of what was there. Maybe you should read about the El Salvador/Honduras war. By the way, what is neo-conservative?

Rudolph Koser
4 months 1 week ago

Since you seem to be an expert on all of this look up neo-conservative. Your research skills are rusty and you are certainly not the least bit inquisitive. Just a neo-conservative regurgitator of shallow talking points that do not reflect Gospel values. By the way, what government to the North has supported these so called elites? Check how the US government interfered in Guatemala on behalf of United Fruit Co. This is from where the phrase Banana Republic comes.

JR Cosgrove
4 months 1 week ago

The social structure that is the problem was part of the meddling of the Catholic Church in political policy for over a thousand years and nothing to do with the United States or how bananas were farmed. The Church endorsed social policies that oppressed about 98% of the people. It is an example of what goes wrong when the Church gets involved in politics. Recently there was an article here showing how this political interference has continued and is invariably wrong for the common person they claim they care about. Your claim that how bananas were farmed is the cause of the problems is nonsense. These countries were dysfunctional long before United Fruit showed up or the US intervened. To claim they are the cause is the height of a lack of concern for the common person.

Carla Eble
4 months 2 weeks ago

Asylum seekers have rights under the Geneva Convention.

Judith Jordan
4 months 2 weeks ago

J Cosgrove---
The immigrants and their children who are under U. S. jurisdiction at the border…this is the inhumanity I speak about. Separating children from their parents; keeping children in cages; not providing a basic standard of care for the children; leaving dirty clothes and diapers on them way too long. This is basic immorality 101. To blame the parents of the children is conflating two issues. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the parents are 100% to blame (which I don’t believe). When the immigrants and their children come under our jurisdiction, then it is the U. S. who is responsible for the standard of care and treatment of the immigrants. Otherwise, we have regressed to the illegal and silly argument that “They did it first.” It is shocking, immoral, and inhumane for the U. S. to treat children this way and the U.S. is responsible for its own behavior.

After WW II, the Allies, including the United States, held the Nuremberg Trials. Many opposed this arguing that we do not try and punish people for obeying their own countries’ laws; and, there was no precedent for these trials. The U. S. and its allies argued we could and should hold the trials. This established the Nuremberg principles which have been widely recognized and prohibited in international criminal law. It also established the concept that countries may try and punish people in other countries for various criminal and inhumane acts.

There are eleven international texts defining crimes against humanity. The United Nations has been primarily responsible for the prosecution of crimes against humanity since it was chartered in 1948. https://undocs.org/A/RES/260(III)

JR Cosgrove
4 months 2 weeks ago

The conditions you describe were set up under Obama. They were done to protect the children from adult predators by keeping them separate from adults. The people responsible for the massive increase in children coming and the dysfunctional situations when they happen are adults encouraging the migration primarily for political and financial reasons. The politicians are looking for headlines like what Ocasio-Cortez did yesterday. The pretense of caring for the illegal immigrants is so phony.

rose-ellen caminer
4 months 2 weeks ago

Except if they are from the list of banned countries, those people fleeing real wars have no legal right to come here. Those people are told by many Americans including liberal social activist Catholics , that they should stay put and fix the countries they are in; they should find a way to stop barrel bombs from falling on them and their kids, Hundreds if not thousands of mihrant /refugees fleeing desperate conditions in Africa and elsewhere are drowning in the Mediterranean Sea, and many are barred from finding safe refuge here. Refugees from bombs by their own brutal regimes, torture prisons ,terrorism, are stuck for years in real camps where the conditions are truly appalling;at the mercy of heat and cold , little food, education , medical care etc.,The people of formally ISIS occupied Raqua are now corralled in detention centers under the control of the Kurdish militias; and though 60 percent are kids, PBS will report that these people are the people the Kurds and Americans were fighting, so of course they are not going to" treat them well".!All people, all kids have rights, and no child should be mistreated as is the case south of the border, but some kids , some refugees , some migrants have more rights, more dignity then others, is what our laws , our policies and our narratives around migrant/refugees, and conditions ethically acceptable in the detention camps they are in , shows!For all the angst and attention focused on these migrants at the border no one including Trump has advocated for placing those countries on the list of banned countries, which legally the Supreme Court said he could do. There is moral outrage at mistreatment of migrants especially children, but it is confined to the adults and kids art the border; the rest of humanities migrant/refugees are off the radar of human consideration ,and empathy, in America!

L Hoover
4 months 2 weeks ago

It’s gratifying to see the bishops doing the work of Christ in the world. There hasn’t been enough of that of late...but they show their capabilities and essential goodness. Doing everything right is never a possibility for us humans.

John Mack
4 months 2 weeks ago

Words and symbols. A little late. Now that they have said some of the right things they can breathe a sigh of relief that they will be ignored and everything will stay the same, And if things get worse they are on record as good guys.

John Mack
4 months 2 weeks ago

Does anything they say that's not about abortion, contraceptives and marriage get heard by anyone? They mobilize for certain marches. They will do nothing of the sort against the internment camps.

Rudolph Koser
4 months 1 week ago

AMEN!!

arthur mccaffrey
4 months 2 weeks ago

another knee jerk reaction to a photo--these are the same bishops that

have spent millions lobbying against changing the Statute of Limitations laws in many states so that victims of clergy abuse lose their opportunity to sue their abusers in court. Do the parents of the drowned girl bear any responsibility for dragging their child across Mexico then drown while trying to enter the USA illegally.? How many migrants are living in the Bishops' mansions?

MARJORIE MORRISON
4 months 2 weeks ago

I'm glad the bishops are saying something. But I think they are capable of more. How about creating a coalition of Christians of all stripes and head down to those facilities with soap and diapers, etc, and reporters in tow, and just stay there in an annoying and nonviolent protest and presence until those children are treated properly?

J. Calpezzo
4 months 2 weeks ago

“The bishops noted the injustices,,,,,,”

Pathetic

A Fielder
4 months 2 weeks ago

I wish they would note the injustices in their own house. Maybe then people would bother to care about their opinions.

Thomas Butler
4 months 2 weeks ago

Pope Francis brought the migrant problem to light months ago when he donated a token $500k from Peter's Pence. Thankfully he helped to grease the wheel to get help. The Bishops response (FINALLY!) is better late than never, but their support is moot. Congress just passed a $4.6 billion bill which will provide funds to DHHS, DHS, and CBP for humanitarian issues at the border. As Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez brought to light yesterday (7/1/2019) at the El Paso,Texas border, the US can do better. The migrants are not criminals (yes there might be some). They are asylum seekers, but heir asylum will probably be denied since it is out of poverty and crime they are trying to extricate themselves; unfortunately under current law, poverty and crime is NOT an accepted reason for immigration to the US. Keep in mind this country is a nation of immigrants as the Catholic Church is an immigrant to North America. As with the Italians, Irish, Germans, Swedish, and of course, the forced immigrant slaves from Africa, and others who immigrated to America, we don't know what wonderful human potential lies in this wave of immigration! We must have mercy, for we, ourselves, could be them!
Peace be with you!

Helene Ossipov
4 months 2 weeks ago

I'm glad they're saying something. However, we all know that, come election day, the same bishops will say that the only issue that matters is a candidate's stance on abortion. And the politicians know this. They can put children in cages, refuse medical care to the sick, take food stamps away from the hungry, but as long as they say the right words about abortion, they have the bishop's support.

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