Bishops oppose barriers along U.S.-Mexico border

.- Bishop William Skylstad, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), sent a letter to President George W. Bush yesterday urging him to veto H.R. 6061, the Secure Fence Act of 2006 that would authorize construction of up to 700 miles of fencing and barriers along the U.S-Mexico.

“The U.S. Catholic bishops are supportive of efforts to enforce immigration law and secure our borders, so long as the mechanisms and strategies applied toward this end protect human dignity and protect human life,” reads the bishop’s letter.

“The best way to secure our border is through the enactment of a comprehensive immigration reform measure, not by the construction of a border fence,” he wrote.

According to the letter, the bishops are opposed to the measure because they believe it could lead to the deaths of migrants attempting to enter the U.S. and to increased human smuggling and smuggling-related violence along the border.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff recently reported that violence against border patrol agents increased over 100 percent in 2005, the bishops pointed out.

The bishops say the barrier would also send the wrong signal to Mexico and the international community that the U.S. “is not willing to cooperatively address the problem of illegal immigration.” This message, says the bishop, could harm relations with other nations.

The bishops believe the barrier will not contribute to solving the problem of illegal immigration faced by our nation.

Bishop Skylstad noted that the Government Accountability Office recently found that migrant deaths have doubled to 3,000 since 1995, about the time that the government initiated a series of border enforcement initiatives.

“In our estimation, the erection of a border fence would force immigrants, desperate to find employment to support their families, to seek alternative and more dangerous ways to enter the country, contributing to an increase in deaths, including among women and children. It also would drive migrants to depend upon unscrupulous smugglers, who would exploit them and, in some cases, place them in dangerous situations, which may cause them harm,” the bishop’s letter stated.

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