Meeting with other bishops in a conference on immigration reform on Thursday, Bishop John C. Wester underlined the need “to address the economic root causes of migration and seek economic policies which would help create jobs” in other countries. This, he stressed, “is the lasting and humane solution to the challenge of illegal immigration.”  

Bishop Wester, who leads the Diocese of Salt Lake City and is Chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Migration, made his remarks at the fourth regional consultation on migration. Today's meeting was the first meeting held in the United States.

“Our purpose is to work together to fashion a multi-national pastoral and advocacy response to the millions of persons in this hemisphere who are compelled, either by fear of violence or poverty, to migrate in search of safety or a better life,” he explained.

“As a global institution, the Catholic Church plays an important role in advancing humane responses to the issue of migration and its impact on the human dignity and basic human rights of the person. We are present in both sending and receiving countries and see the forces which compel persons to migrate, and thus approach the issue from both sides.”

“Often,” he noted, “the global nature of migration is lost in our national debate, as many do not acknowledge the economic, political, or social push factors which drive persons to risk their lives to move to another nation,” Bishop Wester said.

After stressing that other countries should implement economic policies that benefit their citizens so that they aren't pushed to migrate, the bishop said, “we believe that all governments, not only the U.S., should look at their immigration laws and reform them in a manner which respects basic human rights.”   

“We live in a globalized world,” he added, “in which capital, communication, and even goods are exchanged regularly, but the movement of labor has not been regularized, and its impact on human beings not acknowledged or addressed.  As the most powerful country in our hemisphere and a destination for migrants, the United States should lead the way in this effort by reforming immigration laws as soon as possible.   

The Salt Lake City bishop also addressed the need for nations within the hemisphere to “redouble their efforts against the scourge of human trafficking, which continues in all of our nations.”  

“Although there have been strides made in raising awareness of this issue, we must continue to work together on all fronts – law enforcement, service, and reduction of poverty which can lead to trafficking,” he said.

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Bishop Wester also referenced earthquake-ravaged Haiti, “which is still struggling to overcome natural disaster and poverty” following catastrophic earthquakes in January. “We call upon governments to continue to help in rebuilding that nation and to welcome Haitians who cannot remain in Haiti.”

In his concluding remarks, the bishop emphasized that the “Church must continue to play an active role in protecting the rights of persons on the move and to be their advocate.  Too often they are abused, exploited, even killed, as they transit in an attempt to survive.”  

“While we understand and recognize the right of our governments to maintain their borders and serve the interests of their citizenry, we believe these goals can be met without sacrificing the basic human rights of vulnerable persons.”