BY ISN STAFF | October 31, 2018

“Asylum is not a crime,” was the critical message of a statement by Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, Chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Migration, Sean Callahan, President and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, and Sister Donna Markham, O.P., Ph.D., President and CEO of Catholic Charities USA this week. The statement urged all people of goodwill to speak and act with compassion towards those migrating north and seeking refuge from violence and poverty.

A migrant family participating in the migrant caravan walks on a road in Southern Mexico [SOURCE: UNICEF]

The statement comes as Catholic organizations in Mexico and the United States respond to the growing humanitarian emergency of migrant people, including mothers with young children, traveling northward to seek asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border. In Pijijiapan, Mexico, Catholics joined community efforts to assist caravan members as they arrived earlier this week. “Every barrio was collaborating as it could, some collected clothes, others water, food,” said Alejandro Garcia, 19, in an interview with Catholic News Service. Garcia is a member of St. Bartholomew Parish, in the Catholic Diocese of Tapachula, Mexico. “Little by little we’re working to have something we could give our brothers,” noted Garcia.

In El Paso, Texas, Catholic and other faith-based organizations are preparing for arrivals from the caravan while responding to the immediate needs of asylum seeker arrivals. “There’s a surge right now,” said Ruben Garcia, director of Annunciation House, according to KVIA News in El Paso.

“We can do something,” Bishop Mark Seitz, Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of El Paso, said during the same press conference. “We have resources that they only dream of, very often. We can share.” The El Paso Diocese will open additional shelters to respond to the current increase in asylum seekers and prepare for arrivals from the caravan.

“Whether they come as a caravan or as individuals, our mission is the same—to humanize their needs,” Father Sean Carroll, S.J., executive director of Kino Border Initiative (KBI), a bi-national ministry on the Arizona-Mexico border, said in a recent interview with America. KBI has joined other humanitarian aid groups and government offices to prepare for increased arrivals as migrants who are part of the caravan approach the U.S.-Mexico border

The full USCCB / CRS / Catholic Charities USA statement:

“As Catholic agencies assisting poor and vulnerable migrants in the United States and around the world, we are deeply saddened by the violence, injustice, and deteriorating economic conditions forcing many people to flee their homes in Central America. While nations have the right to protect their borders, this right comes with responsibilities: governments must enforce laws proportionately, treat all people humanely, and provide due process.

We affirm that seeking asylum is not a crime. We urge all governments to abide by international law and existing domestic laws that protect those seeking safe haven and ensure that all those who are returned to their home country are protected and repatriated safely.

Furthermore, we strongly advocate for continued U.S. investments to address the underlying causes of violence and lack of opportunity in Central America. Our presence throughout the Americas has convinced us that migration is a regional issue that requires a comprehensive, regional solution. An enforcement-only approach does not address nor solve the larger root causes that cause people to flee their countries in search of protection.

As Christians, we must answer the call to act with compassion towards those in need and to work together to find humane solutions that honor the rule of law and respect the dignity of human life.”

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