The chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration criticized President Donald Trump’s executive memorandum to construct a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, saying it would “put immigrant lives needlessly in harm’s way.”
Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the U.S. bishops’
Committee on Migration, also criticized Trump’s memorandum on a surge
in immigrant detention and deportation forces, saying it would “tear
families apart and spark fear and panic in communities.”
Trump signed the two executive memorandums on national security Jan. 25 during a visit to the Department of Homeland Security.
Earlier, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the wall, a
cornerstone of Trump’s election campaign, would “stem the flow of drugs,
crime and illegal immigration” along the southern border. He also said
Trump’s top priority was the nation’s security.
But hours later, Bishop Vasquez issued a statement saying that
construction of the wall would “make migrants, especially vulnerable
women and children, more susceptible to traffickers and smugglers.
Additionally, the construction of such a wall destabilizes the many
vibrant and beautifully interconnected communities that live peacefully
along the border.
“Instead of building walls, at this time, my brother bishops and I
will continue to follow the example of Pope Francis. We will ‘look to
build bridges between people, bridges that allow us to break down the
walls of exclusion and exploitation.'”
During a February 2016 visit to Mexico, Pope Francis traveled to the
U.S. border at Ciudad Juarez and pleaded for the plight of immigrants.
He said those who refuse to offer safe shelter and passage were bringing
about dishonor and self-destruction as their hearts hardened and they
“lost their sensitivity to pain.”
Bishop Vasquez said the bishops respected the government’s right to
control its borders and to ensure the safety of all Americans, but said,
“We do not believe that a large-scale escalation of immigrant detention
and intensive increased use of enforcement in immigrant communities is
the way to achieve those goals. Instead, we remain firm in our
commitment to comprehensive, compassionate, and common-sense reform.”
He said the new policies would “make it much more difficult for the
vulnerable to access protection in our country. Every day my brother
bishops and I witness the harmful effects of immigrant detention in our
ministries. We experience the pain of severed families that struggle to
maintain a semblance of normal family life. We see traumatized children
in our schools and in our churches. The policies announced today will
only further upend immigrant families.”
“We will continue to support and stand in solidarity with immigrant
families. We remind our communities and our nation that these families
have intrinsic value as children of God. And to all those impacted by
today’s decision, we are here to walk with you and accompany you on this
journey,” Bishop Vasquez said.
At the Jan. 25 White House briefing, Spicer reiterated that Mexico
would end up paying for construction of the wall. He said Trump would
work with Congress on finding money to pay for the construction, noting,
“there are a lot of funding mechanisms that can be used.”
Trump’s second executive memorandum also directed John F. Kelly,
secretary of homeland security, to look at how federal funding streams
can be cut for cities and states that illegally harbor immigrants.
Spicer said the so-called “sanctuary cities” create a problem for
“You have American people out there working” and their tax funds are sent to places that do not enforce the law, he said.
The executive memorandums did not address the issue of DACA, the
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, nor did they discuss
emigration from the Middle East, which Spicer said would be addressed
later in the week.
In 2006, President George W. Bush signed the Secure Fence Act, which
authorized several hundred miles of fencing along the 2,000-mile U.S.
frontier with Mexico. The Associated Press reported that legislation led
to the construction of about 700 miles of various kinds of fencing
designed to block both vehicles and pedestrians, primarily in Texas, New
Mexico, Arizona and California. It said the final sections were
completed after President Barack Obama took office in 2009.
AP reported that a 1970 treaty with Mexico requires that structures
along the border cannot disrupt the flow of rivers that define the
U.S.-Mexican border along Texas and 24 miles in Arizona.
The bishops of Arizona, which includes 389 miles of border with
Mexico, reiterated their call for comprehensive immigration reform.
They said their “hearts and prayers go out to refugee families who
have faced terrible violence and lost their own homes and now need a new
place to live.”
“Focusing on building a new border wall has the potential to take us
away from these important considerations that impact vulnerable families
and will ultimately be useless. Pope Francis has called for bridges,
not walls, between people,” the four bishops said in a statement.
In a blog, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston reiterated
the migration commission concerns about the border wall and an increase
in deportations and detentions.
“The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston is committed to an immigration
policy that protects human rights, dignity and the homeland at the same
time,” he added.