Many Catholics and Catholic organizations are assisting migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexican border in their search for work, Reuters reports.
A Catholic-run shelter in Nuevo Laredo, just south of the border with Laredo, Texas, hosts dozens of Latin American migrants, providing them meals and rest before they attempt to cross into the United States by swimming the Rio Grande. At the shelter the migrants, some from as far away as Central America, replace worn-out clothing, heal their injuries, and telephone relatives for cash for their crossing.
Without the shelters, migrants would have to beg for food and would sleep in the streets or in the harsh conditions of the desert.
"I'm extremely grateful for this shelter, but even without it, I would still try to get across," said 19-year-old Guatemalan coffee picker Raul Mintis, who was staying at the Nazareth shelter.
"Migration is a human right and migrants are some of the world's most vulnerable people. It is the church's obligation to help them," said the Rev. Francisco Pellizzari, an Italian-Argentine missionary who runs the Nazareth migrant shelter in Nuevo Laredo. The shelter itself displays a Vatican certificate announcing that it has been granted a papal blessing.
The Nazareth shelter is just one in a network of similar aid stations along the border.
Many Catholic churches in the United States have seen their congregations double in size after an influx of Hispanic migrants. The parishes offer soup kitchens and support to families affected by workplace raids and deportations.
As immigration becomes an issue in the U.S. presidential election, political objections are arising from religious conservatives critical of Catholic action.
Some immigration opponents are angry that the Catholic Church helps lawbreakers who are in the country illegally. Others claim the Church is using immigration to increase its membership and attract those Catholics who have left for evangelicalism or secularism.
"The Roman Catholic Church is aiding and abetting the criminal invasion of America from Mexico," wrote Ralph Ovadal, pastor of the Pilgrims Covenant Church in Wisconsin, in a booklet sold on the church's Web site.
Church leaders say they are doing nothing wrong and are merely alleviating the burdens caused by poor U.S. immigration policy and high-unemployment economic policies of Latin America.
"While the governments of the United States and Latin America fail to provide workable policies, the church will do what it must to help the migrant," said Rafael Romo, archbishop of the border town Tijuana. "We can't let these people be treated like animals."