How should Catholics respond to migration caravans?

Members of a caravan of Central Americans walk from Mexico to the US side of the border on April 29 2018 in Tijuana Credit David McNew Getty Images CNA Members of a caravan of Central Americans walk from Mexico to the U.S. side of the border with supporters to ask for asylum on April 29, 2018 in Tijuana, Mexico. | David McNew/Getty Images

A moral theologian has said that the US has an obligation to consider petitions from asylum seekers encamped along the US border with Mexico, while working to resolve the crises that triggered their claims.

Joseph Capizzi, a professor of moral theology at Catholic University of America, told CNA that the United States has both a duty to consider the asylum claims of migrants and to assist at resolving situations that trigger the need for migration.

Capizzi's comments came in response to a controversial "migration caravan" that has been waiting at the United States' southern border for several days.

The caravan began March 25 in Tapachula, a city in southern Mexico, and eventually included more than 1,000 people hoping to migrate to the United States. What remains of the group, some 200 people, are now gathered at the Tijuana/San Diego border crossing.

US Customs and Border Protection authorities initially said that the agency did not have the ability to process asylum seekers at that particular border crossing. Eight members of this migrant caravan eventually were selected to apply for asylum. Four of the eight people permitted to apply for asylum are children, and three others are their mothers.

In order to be eligible for asylum, migrants must prove that they are fleeing persecution (or are afraid of persecution) in their home country due to their race, religious beliefs, nationality, political views, or affiliation with a group. After this, applicants is screened by an officer, who then can approve the case to move to a hearing.

The migration caravan contains migrants mostly from Central American countries like Honduras and El Salvador. Both of those countries have dealt with serious gang violence and political unrest in recent years, and recently, a group of high-ranking clergy from El Salvador came to the United States to speak to members of Congress, urging them to restore immigration protections for Salvadoran immigrants living in the United States.

"I think we can distinguish our moral obligations into two categories," Capizzi told CNA. "First, the obligations we have towards these people. We are, morally, obliged to take seriously their claims, and if we believe their asylum cases have merit, to treat them as refugees and then accommodate them at least temporarily to the best of our ability. They must always be treated and welcomed by us with the care appropriate to their human dignity."

Additionally, Capizzi said there is a need, as well as catechetical instruction, to work alongside other countries to improve the current situation in the home countries of these migrants. These steps will help to create an effective immigration policy that benefits all persons.

"We often forget that just as the Catechism teaches us to welcome the foreigner seeking security, so too must those in authority work to improve the conditions of human flourishing in the countries from which they flee," explained Capizzi.

Migration caravans happen annually, but this year's has received garnered media attention due to comments from U.S. President Donald Trump. Trump, in a series of tweets, said that the caravan was an indication that the United States does not have strong immigration laws.

"The migrant 'caravan' that is openly defying our border shows how weak & ineffective U.S. immigration laws are," said Trump on Monday.

"No immigration policy will be satisfactory if it focuses only on the burdens and duties of recipient countries," Capizzi told CNA.

"Such policies must also and first emphasize the responsibilities of authorities in all countries to make their cultures more genuinely human."

Our mission is the truth. Join us!

Your monthly donation will help our team continue reporting the truth, with fairness, integrity, and fidelity to Jesus Christ and his Church.