Speaking prior to the opening of the conference, Seattle Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Migration, said the Church’s position has not changed: “Our mission as Church is to defend the rights of the migrant, no matter what the political situation or polls may dictate.” Those comments align with what Bishop Elizondo said on June 4th, when he referred to the flood of unaccompanied minors as a “humanitarian” crisis, and called for a “comprehensive response” from the US government. “This is an issue which should not become politicized or give cause for negative rhetoric,” Bishop Elizondo said. “Young lives are at stake.”
In that same June 4 statement, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, president of the USCCB, quoted the words of Pope Francis, who has said that immigrants, even ones who arrive illegally, “do not only represent a problem to be solved, but are brothers and sisters to be welcomed, respected and loved.” Archbishop Kurtz called on Congress to solve the immigration problem “in a manner that properly balances the protection of human rights with the rule of law.”
Bishops of dioceses closer to the border are also speaking out. Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, which sits on the Rio Grande across from Matamoros, Mexico, said his job is to provide assistance to immigrants. “We can’t just turn away and say, ‘oh they shouldn’t be here,’” said Bishop Flores. “Well, they are and we have to deal with it and you have to deal with it as a human being and not just as a statistic or as a number or just as a problem because it’s a human phase we have to respond to.” The Diocese of Brownsville has offered food, clothing, and medical services to immigrants at Sacred Heart Church in McAllen, as well as Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Brownsville.
On June 25, Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, which shares a border with the teeming and violent Mexican city of Juarez, testified before Congress on the fate of child immigrants. In his testimony, Bishop Seitz cited a report he and others wrote late last year following an exploratory visit to Central America. The report, titled “The Flight of Unaccompanied Children to the United States” authenticates the rationale many immigrants give for leaving El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Specifically, the USCCB team found that:
- “Violence and bad criminal actors have permeated all aspects of life in Central America and are one of the primary factors driving the migration of children from the region.”
- “Youths who do manage to flee the violence are then exposed to extreme danger and criminal mistreatment by actors along the migration journey.”
- “Violence and the lack of economic and educational opportunity have led to the family breakdown in poor families, leaving children unprotected.”
- “Countries of origin lack the capacity to protect children adequately.”
- “A significant number of migrants, particularly youth, have valid asylum claims.”
In his testimony, Bishop Seitz also made the following recommendations for congressional action, based on his team’s findings in the report they presented to the USCCB:
- “Address the issue of unaccompanied child migration as a humanitarian crisis requiring cooperation from all branches of the US government and appropriate the necessary funding to respond to the crisis in a holistic and child protection-focused manner;”
- “Adopt policies to ensure that unaccompanied migrant children receive appropriate child welfare services, legal assistance, and access to immigration protection where appropriate;”
- “Require that a best interest of the child standard be applied in immigration proceedings governing unaccompanied alien children;”
- “Examine root causes driving this forced migration situation, such as violence from non-state actors in countries of origin and a lack of citizen security and adequate child protection mechanisms;” and
- “Seek and support innovative home country and transit country solutions that would enable children to remain and develop safely in their home country.”
Bishop Seitz also cited the USCCB’s Unaccompanied Alien Children Family Reunification program, also known as “Safe Passages,” which assists unaccompanied minors detained by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to link up with family members in the United States while their cases proceed.