Walking With Migrants

Complete Overhaul of Immigration Law Needed to Solve Border Crisis

Catholic social teaching regarding migration has developed certain principles that may seem contradictory at first view.

The first is that people should have a right to remain in their own country. A second is that people have a right to migrate if conditions of life are intolerable. A third is that sovereign countries have the right to maintain their own borders. A fourth is that they must provide a welcome for migrants and refugees seeking protection, according to national possibilities for absorption.

In the last many months, we have witnessed the development of a real humanitarian crisis at the U.S.-Mexican border. On one hand, we have the issue of Title 42, an obscure public health order, which the previous administration resurrected and repurposed to expel border crossers, including asylum-seekers, without an interview or hearing.

This violates the long-held internationally accepted principle of non-refoulement, which prohibits returning or expelling people to countries where their lives or freedom would be imperiled. To date, nearly 2 million people have been expelled under this order.

A federal judge recently blocked the administration from lifting this entrance requirement after Texas and several other states sued in federal court.

On the other hand, in April the U.S. Supreme Court heard a case regarding the former administration’s policy titled the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP). This policy requires asylum-seekers to remain in Mexico until their cases in the U.S. can be adjudicated, which can take several months and more.

However, the dangerous conditions in Mexican border cities predictably have led to assaults, rapes, extortion, and murders in several hundred documented MPP cases.

So here is the challenge: How does the United States maintain its reputation and conformity to international law that states it cannot return persons to perilous situations and should provide asylum seekers a hearing, while at the same time controlling its borders when vast numbers seek asylum?

There is no easy answer to this dilemma. At the very least, the Biden administration and Congress should devote more resources to the adjudication process. If only a small percentage used for border enforcement was used for processing asylum and other claims, it would go a long way. In addition, creating more legal pathways to the U.S. would take pressure off the border.

It will require a complete overhaul of the existing immigration law. The Catholic Church in the U.S. has been advocating broad reform of this broken system for many years. In June, a historic meeting of Western Hemispheric countries occurred in Los Angeles. Next month, my column will explain the significance of international cooperation and resolving some issues surrounding the asylum process.

Besides legal reform, attention must be paid to the conditions that cause people to migrate, especially from Central America and other places of oppression such as Cuba and Venezuela. Our country needs to step back from the policing problem of not letting people cross our borders and recognize the humanitarian difficulties that drive so many people to seek refuge in our nation. But only with far-reaching reform can the U.S. regain its place in the world as a beacon of freedom for the oppressed and a place where the stranger in need can be truly welcomed.

Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, who served as the seventh bishop of the Diocese of Brooklyn, is continuing his research on undocumented migration in the United States.