BY ISN STAFF | April 17, 2020
In a statement to elected leaders, Faith in Action and the Hope Border Institute have partnered with grassroots and religious organizations in Mexico and Central America to demand urgent protections for migrants across the region during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Faith in Action is the nation’s largest grassroots faith-based organizing network and organizes in Central America through Faith in Action International. The Hope Border Institute, headquartered in El Paso, Texas, works to build justice and deepen solidarity on the US-Mexico border through a robust program of research and policy work, leadership development and action.
The coalition demanding protection for migrants includes Catholic Relief Services, Bishop Mark J. Seitz of the Diocese of El Paso; La 72, Hogar – Refugio para Personas Migrantes (Mexico); Organización Fraternal Negra Hondureña (Honduras); Justicia, Paz e Integridad de la Creación/ Honduras; Centinelas por la Dignificación del Estado (Guatemala); Comunidades de Fe Organizadas en Acción (El Salvador); Congregation Action Network (Washington, DC); and New Mexico CAFé.
The statement has been endorsed by a number of faith leaders, including Cardinal Joseph Tobin of the Archdiocese of Newark and Cardinal Álvaro Ramazzini of the Diocese of Huehuetenango in Guatemala, and the Ignatian Solidarity Network, as well as numerous immigrant rights organizations.
“In his Easter letter to popular movements around the world, Pope Francis lamented that the pandemic has laid bare the inequalities embedded within our political and social systems. As always those at the margins of our societies are feeling the harshest impact – none more so than migrants at this time. We will only be successful in this fight against COVID-19 to the degree that we act in solidarity with the most vulnerable,” said Bishop Mark J. Seitz.
The coalition urges global leaders to focus on five key steps to protect these migrants in this time of COVID-19 pandemic:
We demand the rapid, safe and orderly release of as many migrants and asylum seekers from detention as possible
Take immediate steps to slow the spread of the virus in refugee camps, migrant shelters, and detention centers
Provide migrants and refugees equitable access to prevention, testing, treatment and emergency support
Guarantee the right to asylum
Make immediate and large-scale investments in public health systems and food and income support for vulnerable families
“People are dying and our communities are at risk because our governments are turning their backs on migrants and refugees,” said Omar Angel Perez, Director of the Congregation Action Network. “The priorities we have outlined are critical for protecting and supporting migrants and refugees within the pandemic response and recovery phases. As grassroots and faith-based organizations and religious leaders from across Central America, Mexico and the United States we stand in solidarity with migrants and urge our government leaders to take immediate action to address this crisis.”
“The Trump Administration has a particular responsibility to lead a humanitarian response, restore the rights of asylum seekers and direct aid quickly and efficiently throughout the region to empower local communities to overcome this crisis. We have a chance to lead now on addressing the cocktail of violence, poverty, climate change and corruption driving migration that is only exacerbated by this current crisis,” added Dylan Corbett, executive director of the Hope Border Institute.
“In the face of the pandemic, governments must protect and provide care mechanisms for all people, regardless of their status,” added Cecilia Suarez, who leads Catholic Relief Services’ efforts in Mexico.
Ramon Márquez Vega, who directs La 72, a migrant shelter in southern Mexico near the Guatemala border, is deeply concerned by recent developments. Mexican authorities have been busing Central American migrants from other parts of the country to shelters along the border and encouraging them to cross into Guatemala. “They’re not providing any medical care or taking precautions to protect against the spread of COVID-19. The situation is very chaotic and it’s exposing migrants and our staff to a great risk of contracting the virus.”
In Guatemala, Brenda Peralta Arias of Centinelas por la Dignificación del Estado, reports that the lack of a coordinated regional response and the continued crackdown on migrants “is putting both migrants deported back to our country and our communities at risk. Daily flights from the United States of asylum seekers back to Guatemala without basic testing or treatment protocols are exacerbating contagion here and endangering the health and welfare of everyone. This is inhumane, unsafe and unacceptable.”