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 | Chieko Noguchi | USCCB

Approach to U.S.-Mexico Border Reflects a Crisis of Conscience, says Bishop Seitz

“We are deeply disturbed by this disregard for fundamental humanitarian protections and U.S. asylum law,” said Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso today after President Biden issued a proclamation restricting access to asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The action relies on provisions in federal immigration law that were enacted prior to the Refugee Act of 1980. The Refugee Act established a formal system for refugee and asylum protection, incorporating into domestic law the international principle of non-refoulement, which prohibits countries from returning persons to countries where they face irreparable harm, such as persecution or torture. 

Speaking as chairman of the Committee on Migration for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishop Seitz added:

“There is a crisis of conscience at the U.S.-Mexico border. When vulnerable families seeking safety and the means for a dignified life are labeled ‘invaders’ or ‘illegals’, terms that mask their humanity, we have strayed from the path of righteousness, succumbed to our fear of the ‘other’, and forsaken the values upon which our nation was founded.

“This sentiment in no way violates a country’s right and responsibility to maintain its borders and regulate immigration in furtherance of the common good.

Nevertheless, as defenders of human life and dignity, which we hold sacred and inviolable from the moment of conception, we cannot accept unjust conditions on the right to migrate for those fleeing life-threatening situations.

We especially worry for those compelled by these policies to traverse more treacherous terrain, further endangering their lives and the lives of Border Patrol agents.  

“For those concerned about violent gangs, drug smugglers, and human traffickers, we join you in opposing those evildoers. At the same time, we ask: What fate awaits the families who flee for their lives from the same predatory actors, only to be returned to their grasp once they reach our borders? Imposing arbitrary limits on asylum access and curtailing due process will only empower and embolden those who seek to exploit the most vulnerable. These measures will not sustainably reduce the increased levels of forced migration seen worldwide.

“Mindful of challenges faced by American communities and consistent with our longstanding and repeated calls for bipartisan reform of our broken immigration system, we strongly urge the President to reverse course and recommit his administration to policies that respect the human life and dignity of migrants, both within and beyond our borders.”