Jessie Johnson, Contributing Writer
On July 22, the Texas Catholic Conference, the association of Texas bishops, issued a statement prompting Texas Congressional representatives to address the needs of women and unaccompanied children entering the U.S. from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras over the past 10 months. The refugees have been journeying across Mexico in order to escape violent conditions in their home countries and in hopes of receiving amnesty. U.S. Customs and Border Protection has been working to process the influx of refugees and provide them with basic care. The Department of Homeland Security is also conducting a media campaign in the three Central American countries to highlight the dangers of travel to the U.S., which include human trafficking, drug cartels, starvation and dehydration.
In their letter, the bishops stated: “To be sure, ensuring a stable and secure border between nations is essential to protecting and providing for order. At the same time, a just and reasonable society works to protect and defend the vulnerable and defenseless from harm.”
The bishops pointed to Pope Francis’ “Message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees,” in which the Holy Father stated that all people must turn away from a “throwaway culture” characterized by “attitudes of defensiveness and fear, indifference and marginalization” toward migrants and refugees, and instead move toward “a culture of encounter, the only culture capable of building a better, more just and fraternal world.”
The letter ended with a request that Congressional representatives allocate emergency funding to provide for the humanitarian needs of the refugees, as well as to support legislation that protects the due process rights of those seeking asylum.
The bishops included a statement of principles with the letter to guide policy makers in addressing the current crisis. They again drew on the words of Pope Francis in his reminder that Jesus once fled to Egypt in order to escape violence in his native land. The principles set out by the Texas Catholic bishops include:
-Government immigration agencies and law enforcement personnel should treat all refugees seeking asylum with dignity, fairness, compassion, and in full accordance with their due process rights in seeking asylum. Expedited processing risks diminishing due process and mistakes on legitimate asylum claims.
-Allocate emergency funding to provide humanitarian aid for refugees, to ensure resources for governmental workers to efficiently perform their jobs, and to allow existing refugee programs to continue.
-Preserve the bipartisan Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 to protect refugee children fleeing violence, exploitation, and possible death in their home countries.
-Reaffirm the nation’s right and responsibility to maintain secure borders and to intercept unauthorized migrants by targeted, proportional, and humane measures.
– Both governmental and non-governmental agencies should broadly communicate the risks and dangers of violence, exploitation, and possible denial of asylum that may await potential migrants considering the trek north.
-The federal government should collaborate with the governments of Central America and Mexico to alleviate the root problems of this situation, including human trafficking, violent gangs and cartels, poverty, and structural injustice.
Dr. Daniel Luby, an affiliate associate professor and director of enrollment at the University of Dallas, said in an email statement that he applauds the bishops’ actions.
“The bishops are not naïve — they understand that the issues are complex and the solutions costly, at multiple levels,” he said. “Catholics should be proud of the courage it displays.”