Church leaders in the United States and Mexico acknowledged the need for governments to keep their country secure but said two recent U.S. presidential actions could endanger the lives of immigrants and split border communities.
President Donald Trump called for construction of an “impassable
physical barrier” along the United States’ southern border because
“continued illegal immigration presents a clear and present danger to
the interests of the United States.”
He called for increased enforcement and the withdrawal of federal funds from cities and states that do not comply.
The presidential actions, signed Jan. 25 at the Department of
Homeland Security, brought an immediate stream of reactions from church
officials, as a group and as individuals. Many cited Pope Francis’ call
to build bridges and break down walls.
Representatives of the bishops in the United States and Mexico, who
have been working on this issue for 20 years, said the answer was
comprehensive immigration reform, not a wall.
Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the U.S. bishops’
Committee on Migration, said Trump’s actions would “tear families apart
and spark fear and panic in communities.”
Building a 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,” said Bishop Vasquez.
“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.'”
Bishops from Mexico quoted Bishop Vasquez’s remarks and spoke of the
border communities served by two different dioceses. As examples, they
cited Matamoros, Mexico, and Brownsville, Texas, as well as Laredo,
Texas, and Nuevo Laredo, Mexico — communities separated only by the Rio
“We express our pain and rejection to the construction of this wall,
and we respectfully invite you to reflect more deeply on the ways in
which security, development, activation of employment and other
necessary and fair measures can be pursued without causing further
damage than those already suffered by the poorest and most vulnerable
persons,” said the Mexican bishops.
They said they would continue to help Central Americans traveling
through their country en route to the United States and urged the
Mexican government, when dealing with the U.S., to “safeguard dignity
and respect for people, regardless of their nationality or creed.”
“We respect the right of the United States government to care for its
borders and its citizens, but we do not believe that a rigorous and
intensive application of the law is the way to achieve those objectives;
on the contrary, these actions generate alarm and fear among
immigrants, disintegrating many families without further consideration,”
Nearly every church leader who issued a statement explicitly recognized the president’s right and duty to protect U.S. security.
In a separate statement Jan. 26, Bishop Vasquez said he shared the
concern that all feel when someone “is victimized by crime, especially
when the perpetrator of that crime is someone who is in the United
States without authorization.”
However, he said, Trump’s executive action authorizing increased
enforcement “would force all jurisdictions to accept a one-size-fits-all
regime that might not be best for their particular jurisdictions.”
He said the bishops, who work with law enforcement and immigrant
communities, know how important it is to have cooperation between the
two, and he said he feared Trump’s action could hurt that relationship.
“I have enormous respect for and value our federal law enforcement
agents who risk their lives every day to enforce our immigration laws. I
also recognize that there may well be situations where local government
feel they need to foster a relationship with their communities by
working with the victims of or witnesses to crime without instilling a
fear that by coming forward, they or their family members will be handed
over to immigration authorities,” 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 government officials indicated
would be addressed at a later time.
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. He reiterated the archdiocese’s
commitment to a policy that “protects human rights, dignity and the
homeland at the same time.”
Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, said Trump’s
executive actions were “the opposite of what it means to be an
“Closing borders and building walls are not rational acts,” said the
cardinal, whose grandparents were immigrants. “Mass detentions and
wholesale deportation benefit no one; such inhuman policies destroy
families and communities.
“In fact, threatening the so-called ‘sanctuary cities’ with the
withdrawal of federal funding for vital services such as health care,
education and transportation will not reduce immigration. It only will
harm all good people in those communities,” he said.
Sean Callahan, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, which
works in Central America, said the United States needs “to address the
reasons people are leaving their homes — violence and lack of
opportunity. And we need to protect their right to apply for asylum.”
“While working in the most violent neighborhoods of Honduras, for
example, we have seen how children are orphaned by violence,” he said.
“People have a right not to migrate and remain in their home countries —
that is our goal — but when their very lives are threatened, they don’t
have that option. And as a nation, we have always afforded people their
day in court to apply for protection.”