J.D. Long-GarcíaJune 25, 2021
Vice President Kamala Harris holds a roundtable discussion with advocates from faith-based NGOs (non-governmental organizations), and shelter and legal service providers, during her visit to the Paso del Norte (PDN) Port of Entry in El Paso, Texas, Friday, June 25, 2021. The Paso del Norte Port of Entry is one of the country's busiest pedestrian border crossings. It is located on the Paso Del Norte International Bridge. Thousands of people cross the border through the Port each day.(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Vice President Kamala Harris landed in El Paso, Tex., today to learn more about the experiences of migrants and those working on their behalf on the U.S.-Mexico border. Bishop Mark J. Seitz and other immigration advocates were there to welcome her and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas.

“As a pastor, I also welcome you on behalf of Christ, present in our borderland community in so many beautiful ways—present in our resilience, our spirit of compassion and service,” he said in a statement. “And present in the poor knocking at our doorstep, in the migrant and refugee.”

Bishop Seitz expressed his gratitude for the visit and for Ms. Harris’ focus on the factors driving immigrants north to the United States. He also relayed greetings from Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“Borders are places where the drama of human life—its suffering and aspirations—unfolds and they put squarely before us a moral choice,” he said, “to build bridges or encounter walls of fear.”

“Borders are places where the drama of human life—its suffering and aspirations—unfolds and they put squarely before us a moral choice: to build bridges or encounter walls of fear.”

Bishop Seitz underscored the importance of seeing beyond the “foreboding walls of steel that mark the southern boundary of this borderland community” and to see “the suffering and aspirations that motivate people to leave family and homeland.” He added, “These are things that cannot be understood in the abstract. They must be experienced.”

President Joe Biden charged the vice president with addressing the escalating number of immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border back in March. Earlier this month, she traveled to Guatemala to meet with President Alejandro Giammattei and expressed the Biden administration’s goal to “help Guatemalans find hope at home.” Immigrant advocates took exception to some of Ms. Harris’ remarks from the trip, including those she gave during a press conference June 7. She told Guatemalas considering the journey north to the United States: “Do not come.”

Ms. Harris also met with five young girls, ages 9-16, who had been held at a Customs and Border Protection processing center after crossing the border, the White House said, before visiting the border itself at the Paso del Norte Port of Entry.

“We inherited a tough situation,” Ms. Harris said during her meeting with Bishop Seitz and faith-based organizations, as well as shelter and legal service providers.

She added: “In five months we’ve made progress, but there’s still more work to be done, but we’ve made progress.”

In his remarks, Bishop Seitz quoted St. Oscar Romero: “There are many things that can only be seen through eyes that have cried.” The bishop encouraged the vice president and other administration officials to hear the stories of those who have chosen to travel north.

“We must stand with our neighbors in their struggle to be artisans of their futures,” he said. “I believe Providence and history are calling the peoples of the United States, Mexico and Central America to a deeper solidarity. This is a call to mutual transformation, to build societies where families can dream of a future for their children, so they don’t have to migrate.”

One June 17, more than 160 organizations from Latin America and the United States who work with migrants sent a letter to bishops conferences in their home countries pleading for a unified response from the Catholic Church. Bishop Seitz encouraged Ms. Harris to work with faith communities and grassroot leaders to rebuild relationships between nations. “We are ready to partner with you in the work of justice for migrants and solidarity between nations,” he said.

Ms. Harris was being joined on the trip by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin and Democratic Rep. Veronica Escobar, who represents the district there.

“The sacrifices of the pandemic borne by our Dreamers, our undocumented essential workers and their families, who ensure our health, nourishment and safety and made possible our recovery, must be matched by our standing with them in their struggle for citizenship”

Bishop Seitz also pleaded for immediate immigration reform. “The sacrifices of the pandemic borne by our Dreamers, our undocumented essential workers and their families, who ensure our health, nourishment and safety and made possible our recovery, must be matched by our standing with them in their struggle for citizenship,” he said.

Bishop Seitz gave the vice president a rosary blessed by Pope Francis during Romero’s canonization Mass. He called it “a reminder of the divine fire within you, calling you deeper, to put faith into action by working for a world in which we all recognize each other, every human person, as sisters and brothers.”

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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