National News

Bishops Propose Action Plan to Tackle Root Causes Of Migration Crisis

Migrants from Guatemala carry their children in Penitas, Texas, March 17, 2021, after crossing the Rio Grande. (Photo: CNS/Adrees Latif, Reuters)

NEW YORK — Bishop Mario Dorsonville remembers a conversation he once had with a woman named Rosalinda in a doctor’s office. Rosalinda, a migrant, had legs full of cactus thorns from her journey through the desert to get to the U.S., but she explained that’s not what hurt most.

“The pain of leaving my country and my grandparents. Those are the terrible thorns that I have in my heart,” Rosalinda told Bishop Dorsonville, an auxiliary bishop of Washington and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Migration Committee chair.

Bishop Dorsonville told the story earlier this month to over 20 Catholic bishops from the U.S., Mexico, and Central America, and more than 20 Catholic leaders involved in immigration advocacy, at an emergency immigration summit at the Mundelein Seminary outside of Chicago.

The anecdote is laid out in the final readout of the summit that was recently sent to all of the U.S. bishops. The 18-page document details key topics discussed — welcoming, root causes, and advocacy. It included Pope Francis’ vision of a ‘Church without borders’ and the bishops’ priorities and approach to tackling the immigration crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Bishop Dorsonville and Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso announced the readout would be sent to America’s prelates at last week’s spring assembly. They each spoke passionately about the summit and migration issues at the close of the virtual gathering of the nation’s bishops.

“You would be hard-pressed to find a diocese that is not receiving migrants, but it’s not at the forefront of their awareness,” Bishop Seitz told The Tablet of why it was important to bring the topic of immigration to the full body of bishops.

“I think it’s extremely important to raise that awareness and to begin to say that this is not just a border issue, that this is an aspect of the life of the church of our care for the poor,” he added. “These people are facing life and death circumstances and the church needs to be there.”

The readout of the summit identifies a long-term action of developing a national framework for guidance regarding the welcome of migrants into the country that will simultaneously encourage the development of diocesan pastoral plans.

Ending Title 42 is listed as the top advocacy priority. The Trump administration policy, instituted last year and not rescinded by President Joe Biden, allows U.S. authorities to expel migrants on the grounds of public health, limiting their right to seek asylum.

U.S. Customs and Borders Protection has expelled 647,919 people under the policy since the start of Fiscal Year 2021 in October, according to its website. 328,267 of those expulsions took place in March (107,100), April (110,687), and May (110,480).

Other advocacy priorities laid out in the readout are safe, orderly access to asylum and due process at the border; COVID-19 vaccination for migrants entering the southern border, and pathways to legalization.

On how to deal with root causes, the document identifies engaging the current administration as the top priority. It suggests Catholic leaders in the United States, Mexico, and Central America take a joint advocacy trip to the White House, as well as a trip to Central America, which was dubbed a “joint fact-finding and solidarity trip.”

Another priority action is utilizing the USCCB Justice, Peace & Human Development committee as a think tank to evaluate Biden administration proposals.

Vice President Kamala Harris took her first trip to Central America to focus on root causes earlier this month. Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe, who participated in the migration summit, told The Tablet it was important for her to go because “you can’t just simply deal with the symptoms, you’ve got to deal with the symptomatic issues.”

Harris will take her first trip to the U.S.-Mexico border on Friday, June 25.

Bishop Dorsonville said violence, climate change, corruption, political instability, and a lack of education and opportunities for success are issues that need to be addressed with long-term solutions.

In the meantime, he maintains that there needs to be a focus on welcoming the migrants that choose to leave their home countries and the positive impact that can make.

“[Rosalinda] was a beautiful example,” Bishop Dorsonville said. “She learned English and with her English got a job through the help of the Spanish Catholic Center and today she is a Dreamer.”