Washington D.C., Jul 26, 2017 / 03:40 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As Congress prepares to vote on whether to fund the further construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, bishops of dioceses along both sides of the border have been outspoken against such a policy.
“While countries have a duty to ensure that immigration is orderly and safe, this responsibility can never serve as a pretext to build walls and shut the door to migrants and refugees,” Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, Texas said in his July 18 pastoral letter on migration, “Sorrow and Mourning Flee Away.”
Although “the Church has long recognized the first right of persons not to migrate, but to stay in their community of origin,” the bishop wrote, “when that has become impossible, the Church also recognizes the right to migrate.”
The House will reportedly vote this week on approving $1.6 billion in funding for construction of a wall along part the U.S.-Mexico border, as requested by President Donald Trump in his FY 2018 budget proposal. Trump had campaigned for president by repeatedly promising to build a wall on the border. Around 700 miles of the approximately 2,000 mile-long border is already fenced.
In a January executive order on immigration, President Trump stated: “It is the policy of the executive branch to…secure the southern border of the United States through the immediate construction of a physical wall on the southern border, monitored and supported by adequate personnel so as to prevent illegal immigration, drug and human trafficking, and acts of terrorism.”
He also called for the allocation of federal funding “for the planning, designing, and constructing of a physical wall along the southern border” and to “project and develop long-term funding requirements for the wall.”
Bishops of dioceses along both sides of the border, however, said that the additional construction of a wall would pose dangers to migrants and would create unnecessary divisions in societies that have transcended countries’ borders.
The chair of the U.S. bishops’ migration committee, Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, Texas said he was “disheartened” by the President’s request. “This action will put immigrant lives needlessly in harm's way,” he said. “Construction of such a wall will only make migrants, especially vulnerable women and children, more susceptible to traffickers and smugglers,” he said. “Additionally, the construction of such a wall destabilizes the many vibrant and beautifully interconnected communities that live peacefully along the border.”
Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas tweeted after the executive order was issued: “Walls only impede and put at risk the poor and children, because those who have resources always find other options.”
The Mexican bishops’ conference responded as well to the call for the further construction of the wall. In their Jan. 26 statement “Value and Respect for Migrants,” they expressed “pain and rejection” at the announcement and said that the wall would interfere in the multi-cultural societies that have developed where there are cities directly across the border from each other.
“We express our pain and rejection over the construction of this wall, and we respectfully invite you to reflect more deeply about the ways security, development, growth in employment, and other measures, necessary and just, can be procured without causing further harm to those already suffering, the poorest and most vulnerable,” the conference stated.
For over 20 years, the statement added, the bishops in dioceses including both borders have worked to achieve “the best care for the faithful that live in the sister countries, properly seen as a single city (from a faith perspective); communities of faith served by two dioceses (such as Matamoros and Brownsville, or Laredo and Nuevo Laredo, for example).”
“What pains us foremost is that many people who live out their family relationships, their faith, work or friendships will be shut out even more by this inhuman interference,” the conference said.
The bishops also said that the U.S. has a right to enforce its own border, but that “a rigorous and intense application of the law” would “create alarm and fear among immigrants, breaking up families without further consideration.”
President Trump requested $1.6 billion for a wall in his FY 2018 budget request. He also directed the Department of Homeland Security to spend $100 million of existing appropriations on “border security, fencing and infrastructure.” Tom Homan, director of U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, told reporters on June 28 that “the border wall is one tool to help control the border,” among other actions like the presence of border patrol agents and law enforcement.
When asked by a reporter after a July 7 bilateral meeting with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto if he still wanted Mexico to pay for the construction of the wall, President Trump responded “absolutely.”
Bishop Seitz explained in his pastoral letter “When Sorrow and Mourning Flee Away” that the construction of a border fence poses harm to migrants in forcing them to cross the border in more dangerous areas. “The burning sands of our desert are an unmarked grave for too many migrants who have died attempting to cross,” he wrote. “Increased militarization and more walls will only make this journey even more dangerous.”
And, he said, walls that separate cities directly across the border from each other – like El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico – interfere in the societies there and separate loved ones. “Misguided policies and walls are widening the divide between us and our sister city of Ciudad Juárez,” he said. “I am pastor of a diocese divided by walls and checkpoints that separate individuals from loved ones.”
Pope Francis said Mass at the U.S.-Mexico border in February 2016 at Ciudad Juárez. He asked all those in attendance to pray for “the gift of tears” amidst the hardships of migrants and their “exploitation.” “Let us together ask our God for the gift of conversion, the gift of tears, let us ask him to give us open hearts,” Pope Francis said at the Feb. 17 Mass. “No more death! No more exploitation!”