In El Paso, Catholic bishops meet along the border to discuss migration

Border Marker at San Ysidro JD CNA file photo CNA Border Marker at San Ysidro. CNA file photo.

Catholic bishops from both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border are meeting in El Paso with immigration advocates, interreligious groups, and other leaders to show solidarity with migrants and to strategize action on migration.

A group of bishops known as the Tex-Mex Bishops Conference are meeting in a partnership with the Hope Border Institute, immigration advocates, other advocacy groups, and interreligious groups to "strategize new ways to strengthen the collective impact of the faith community on issues of migration," a Feb. 22 media advisory from the Hope Border Institute said.

The bishops will gather with advocacy groups and the Catholic faithful for interreligious prayer and witness and a show of solidarity on the U.S.-Mexico border at the Anapra Fence the afternoon of Feb. 26.

Participants include Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso; members of the "Tex-Mex" bishops along the U.S.-Mexico border; Father Robert Stark, a regional coordinator of the Vatican Migrants and Refugees Section; representatives of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Dylan Corbett, director of the Hope Border Institute; and leaders with the Catholic Legal Immigration Network and Catholic Charities.

Organizers of the border fence gathering include the Hope Border Institute and the Corpus Christi Parish in the Ciudad Juarez neighborhood of Anapra, which borders the U.S. state of New Mexico.

The groups involved plan to release a joint statement "in solidarity with migrants" Feb. 27.

The Hope Border Institute is a community organization working in the region of El Paso, Texas; Cuidad Juarez, Mexico; and Las Cruces, N.M. It aims to bring Catholic social teaching perspectives to the region's social situation. It works to deepen solidarity across borders and to transform the region through research, reflection, leadership development, advocacy, and other forms of action.

Ashley Feasley, director of policy for Migration and Refugee Services at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told CNA there are humanitarian challenges at the border but Catholic entities are "really stepping up to serve families and children who are coming."

Feasley said the meeting is an important opportunity to visit an area where Catholic groups are working to "encounter, accompany and serve vulnerable immigrants who are coming."

Catholic social teaching places great importance in recognizing "root causes" of migration as well as the right to migrate and the right not to migrate. A border visit is also a chance to hear the "human impact," to see and hear firsthand from the people about why they are coming, and what obstacles they are facing.

The El Paso area is where two children died in U.S. officials' custody, one in late December and another in early January, Feasley noted. She stressed the importance of the Church and its ministries being clear that it aims to serve immigrants and refugees in "a compassionate and humane manner."

Feasley also noted that migration levels are "nothing like" those of the 1990s under President Bill Clinton and in the early 2000s under President George W. Bush, when they were very high.

The latest border meeting comes after several years of Catholic bishops' work responding to the Trump administration's policies and actions against undocumented migrants in the name of border security, following years in which the U.S. bishops gave mixed reviews to the Obama administration's policy, which continued immigration raids and deportations while also giving some leeway for those brought to the U.S. as minors.

On Feb. 15 the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said they are "deeply concerned" by Trump's declaration of a national emergency on the southern border, part of the president's attempt to secure full funding to build a border wall.

They said the wall was a "symbol of division and animosity" between the United States and Mexico.

"We remain steadfast and resolute in the vision articulated by Pope Francis that at this time we need to be building bridges and not walls," they said, in a joint statement from USCCB President Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston and Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, who heads the U.S. bishops' migration committee.

In addition to humanitarian concerns, bishops have criticized the prospect of a wall interfering with daily Catholic life along the border. A wall in La Lomita Historical Park would significantly hinder access to a historic Catholic chapel owned by the Diocese of Brownsville.

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Trump's declaration said that the border situation "presents a border security and humanitarian crisis that threatens core national security interests and constitutes a national emergency." He contended that the southern border is "a major entry point for criminals, gang members, and illicit narcotics."

Cardinal DiNardo and Bishop Vasquez rejected Trump's evaluation of the border situation.

This story previously indicated that the USCCB's Ashley Feasley would not be in attendance at the meeting. This was incorrect, and has been amended.

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