13 October 2023, The Tablet

US migrant policies open doors but still build walls

Helping refugees and migrants is how “the Catholic Church in the United States answers Christ’s call to welcome the stranger” said Bishop Mark Seitz.

US migrant policies open doors but still build walls

A section of the border fence south of San Diego, California.
Tony Webster / flickr | Creative Commons

The Biden administration continued to pursue seemingly divergent moral strategies towards the growing number of refugees seeking to enter the United States without proper documentation. US bishops and other advocates for migrants are torn between praise and condemnation of the policy changes.

Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, Texas, who chairs the US bishops’ committee on migration, welcomed the decision to raise the number of refugees permitted to enter the country legally to 125,000 in the fiscal year that began on 1 October. 

He said the higher number represents “an ambitious and meaningful goal as we reflect not only on the global need but also the challenges facing American communities, including labour shortages, a lack of affordable housing, and high inflation.”

The administration also increased the number of refugees permitted from Latin America and lowered the number from Europe. Bishop Seitz welcomed the changes and affirmed the bishops’ “solidarity with persecuted Christian around the world.”

Seitz encouraged Congress to continue its “history of bipartisan support” for the US Refugee Admissions Program, which partners with the US bishops’ Department of Migration and Refugee Services to help resettle refugees and other migrants.

Seitz said the Church’s work with refugees and migrants was “one of the ways in which the Catholic Church in the United States answers Christ’s call to welcome the stranger and carries out the Church’s commitment to protecting the life and upholding the dignity of every human person, from the moment of conception to natural death.”

Later that week, however, immigration advocates opposed Biden’s decision to build a 20-mile stretch of wall along the southern border with Mexico in the Rio Grande valley region of Texas. The administration said they had no choice because the money had been appropriated in 2019 during the Trump administration and Congress had refused to reallocate it to other projects.

The US bishops have long opposed building a wall along the Mexican border as ineffective and inhumane.

The Archdiocese of Mexico has warned that shelters for migrants run by the Church in Mexico City are “overwhelmed”, with growing numbers of migrants creating “a true humanitarian crisis.”

The Church provides help through its migrant centres and Caritas facilities, providing food, medical care, psychological first aid, and legal advice. However, one parish in Mexico City has seen between 500 and 1,000 migrants arriving each day to eat and sleep.

In a 5 October statement, the archdiocese urged the civil authorities “to expedite legal processes for the stability of migrants” as well as “grant humanitarian visas so that they can transit freely to their destination”.

According to official figures, Mexico took in 402,324 undocumented migrants between January and August 2023, while over the same period 158,712 people were deported from the US to Mexico.

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