U.S. and Mexican bishops from both sides of the border issued a joint statement March 4 expressing "total disagreement" with a recent U.S. policy of sending asylum-seekers back to Mexico while they wait for court proceedings.

The prelates also spoke against the perception that immigrants are criminals.

"We urge everyone to discover, in these brothers and sisters who are suffering, Christ in need, and to give them the support they require, without assuming they are criminals, as they are sometimes perceived," says the statement posted on the website of the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas, and signed by 14 bishops.

The reality is different, the bishops said in the statement, adding that many migrants are victims of crime in their home countries and sometimes during their migration to the north.

The signers also voiced opposition to a recent policy requiring those seeking asylum in the United States to wait in Mexico until a judge can hear their case. The policy undermines their right to seek asylum in the U.S. and deprives them of the support of family in the U.S., and perhaps is leading Mexico to organize refugee camps for tens of thousands, they said.

The policy also puts out of reach the migrants' right to seek legal representation before their cases are heard and that, in turn, may create a situation that will force many to avoid the legal process at ports of entry and enter instead through "high-risk locations in order to avoid the authorities," according to the bishops.

"We appeal to governments, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they not adopt policies that have the effect of increasing the suffering of the most vulnerable," they said in the statement.

The Texas bishops who signed it are: Bishop Mark P. Seitz of El Paso; Bishop James A. Tamayo of Laredo; Bishop Daniel E. Flores, Auxiliary Bishop Mario Aviles and retired Bishop Raymundo Pena of Brownsville; Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller and Auxiliary Bishop Michael J. Boulette of San Antonio; Bishop Michael James J. Sis and retired Bishop Michael D. Pfeifer of San Angelo.

The Mexican bishops who signed it are: Bishops Enrique Sanchez Martinez of Nuevo Laredo, Jose Guadalupe Torres Campos of Ciudad Juarez, Eugenio Andres Lira Rugarcia of Matamoros, Alonso Garza Trevino of Piedras Negras and Francisco Raul Villalobos Padilla of Saltillo.

"We reiterate our commitment to continue to provide all the help our migrant brothers and sisters need, each distinct diocese joining with various religious and civil organizations that work in support of the immigrants," the statement said.

The statement followed a Feb. 25-27 meeting of border bishops from the U.S. and Mexico in El Paso, which this year included the participation of representatives from various Catholic social justice groups, to discuss recent immigration developments in the region.