Bishop Mark Seitz offers a special blessing for expectant mothers during a visit with a small group of migrant women in Ciudad Juárez on Thursday. The women, who have come from various countries such as Cuba, Ecuador, and Honduras, sought asylum in the United States and were sent to wait in Juárez, in some cases for over a year, for their hearings. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Catholic leaders in the Southwest, including three bishops, are calling on President Biden to institute a sweeping overhaul of immigration policies, including an emphasis on protecting migrants rather than deterring their movement.

“We must urgently begin a new process of mutual engagement that allows us to rediscover as sisters and brothers those whose dreams have been shattered by broken immigration policy,” the leaders said in the letter dated Thursday. “We must re-learn to see those who continue to flee to the border as neighbors in need. We need grace to dream new dreams as well as repentance and courage to recognize all of the ways in which our country has produced harm and continues to harm migrants and their communities.”

The letter was signed by Bishops Mark Seitz of El Paso, John Wester of Santa Fe and Edward Weisenburger of Tucson. Other signatories include leaders of Catholic legal and advocacy organizations in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.

Along with the letter, the Catholic leaders sent a “framework for action and reform at the border.” Their proposal aligns with some of Biden’s campaign proposals on immigration, but goes much further in many instances.

The framework calls for a restoration of asylum at the border, which was largely ended by the Trump administration. It also calls for the Biden administration to “reform and re-imagine immigration policy.”

But much of the document is focused on a fundamental shift in the way the United States deals with migration. For generations, under Democratic and Republican administrations, policy has focused on deterring people from migrating or intercepting migrants when they cross the border.

“Harsh attitudes towards the vulnerable will not be reversed overnight and destructive policies of exclusion will not be changed without struggle. Yet we are people of hope and we know that ‘the Lord hears the cry of the poor,’” the letter from the Southwest Catholic leaders said. “Humble encounters with the poor and attentiveness to their needs and aspirations converts hearts and offers vision capable of motivating a new type of politics required by the present moment. This is a politics concerned with the building up of a people in right relationship with one another and with the poor and the environment, a politics of ongoing commitment to shared values and mutual love.”

The group’s framework for reform recommends numerous changes in the way the nation views and treats migrants. Much of what they seek is likely to face fierce opposition by Republicans and some Democrats.

  • Move from policies “grounded in deterrence and military-style strategies and move towards a system grounded in the recognition of the rights and dignity of migrants and asylum seekers.”
  • End multinational programs aimed at deterring migration that have led to human rights abuses.
  • Work with Mexico to address trafficking of humans and guns.
  • End detention for migrants who represent no danger to communities, using community-based alternatives instead.
  • “Address the culture of abuse in border enforcement.”
  • End the focus on wall construction, increased enforcement and detention by investing instead in “capacity for the humane reception of migrants and processing of asylum claims.
  • Keep migrant families together and reunite them as necessary.

“The transformational change needed by migrants and our border communities will require deep listening to those who have been affected, and commitment to shared efforts to construct a common future,” the letter from the Catholic leaders said. “As Pope Francis says, if we are to come out of the multiple crises that are affecting us, ‘we must rediscover the knowledge that as a people we have a shared destination.’”

Cover photo: Bishop Mark Seitz offers a special blessing for expectant mothers during a visit with a small group of migrant women in Ciudad Juárez on June 2020. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Robert Moore is the founder and CEO of El Paso Matters. He has been a journalist in the Texas Borderlands since 1986.