Although many families remain physically separated by the U.S.-Mexico border, some have found a different way to cross the fence. A Catholic mass held this past week allowed families to connect despite the physical barrier that lies between them. In Nogales, Arizona a bilingual, transnational mass was lead by both veteran border bishops and newcomer bishops from the Committee on Migration, who had never before lead a border mass.1 This event helped some families cope with the pain of separation and gave others the hope they need to continue on their migration journeys.
The mass was held in order to commemorate those who have died during the perilous journey of crossing the border. Cardinal Seán O'Malley, who states that he was inspired by Pope Francis’ prayers for those who died in attempt to migrate by boat to Europe, lead the services. O’Malley stated, “The bishops are here to call attention to this ethical problem”,1 pointing to a growing sentiment of Catholic support of immigration reform. The leader of the Catholic Bishop’s Committee on Migration, Eusebio Elizondo, has recently written to the Department of Homeland Security, imploring the government to reduce deportations. It is no secret that the Obama administration has deported record amounts of immigrants, although since his first year in office, these rates have dropped.1
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has expressed that deportation poses a moral dilemma. This organization recognizes that many migrants illegally cross the border in search of work and in order to meet their families’ basic needs. It also laments that the U.S. does not provide sufficient means for people to enter legally, forcing many to risk their lives to enter illegally. In a pastoral letter on immigration, the bishops stated, “[w]hen persons cannot find employment in their country of origin to support themselves and their families, they have a right to find work elsewhere in order to survive. Sovereign nations should provide ways to accommodate this right."2
As Carcamo’s Los Angeles Times’ article states, however, there may be a disconnect between stating this belief and actually practicing it. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center revealed that only 7% of adults cite religion as the biggest influence on their views about immigration, most rely on experience or education to form their beliefs.1
The comments on Carcamo’s article reveal critique of the Church's support for immigration overhaul. One user stated, “Why are they at our border demanding we do something for another country citizens, they should be preaching to the mexican government regarding the welfare of their own instead.”1 Another claimed, “One reason the United States is so superior to Mexico is that we are a nation of rational laws, not a nation led by grandstanding, misguided priests. The two countries are separate and distinct and should remain so. The border is not an unfortunate artifact, but rather a national treasure.”1 Clearly these comments reveal a disapproval of the use of religion as a way to justify immigration reform.
These arguments also overlook the historical causes of immigration from Mexico to the United States. Although they blame Mexico for neglecting its citizens, the United States’ policies have intensified the need for migration for decades. In a previous article, I argue that beginning with the Bracero Program and continuing into today’s North American Free Trade Agreement, the U.S. has designed these economic policies in order to exploit cheap foreign labor.3 NAFTA, for example facilitated for the travel of agricultural products from one nation to another, allowing U.S. subsidized goods to crush the Mexican agricultural industry and forcing these laborers to seek work in the U.S.
Perhaps, as the bishops suggest, this issue needs to be seen as a moral dilemma in order to be fully understood. Clearly it is devastating to individuals and families to suffer the separation from and death of loved ones. But why should the U.S. feel morally obligated to mend the situation? Its economic policies throughout history have helped to cause the horrible situation that forces these people to emigrate from their homelands. As the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ stance on immigration states, “the antidote to the problem of illegal immigration is sustainable economic development in sending countries. In an ideal world, migration should be driven by choice, not necessity.”2 The issues of immigration cannot be solved by simply more deportations, but rather the policy must be reformed so that a more sustainable, ethical solution can be reached.
1) Carcamo, Cindy. “Catholic leaders hold Mass at border to urge immigration overhaul.” Los Angeles Times. Tribune Newspaper. 01 Apr. 2014. Web. 02 Apr. 2014.
2) “Catholic Church’s Position on Immigration Reform.” Migration and Refugee Services/Office of Migration Policy and Public Affairs. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Aug. 2013. Web. 02 Apr. 2014.