Bishop Mark Seitz | Clip courtesy Diocese of El Paso
On Thursday, Bishop Mark J. Seitz of the Diocese of El Paso was in Ciudad Juárez to inaugurate a project supported by the Border Refugee Assistance Fund that will aid pregnant migrant women in Juárez.
Bishop Seitz also sat down with expectant migrant mothers to hear their stories. The bishop offered the following remarks on Title 42 expulsions and the suspension of due process at the border:
I’m very happy to be with you all this afternoon.
Today I was able to visit with my brother, Mons. José Guadalupe Torres Campos, the bishop of Ciudad Juárez, and thank him for the efforts of the church here on behalf of human dignity and all those who are migrating. It is very humbling to see the breadth of the work of the faith community and community organizations here in Ciudad Juárez even in very difficult circumstances.
Are there risks to me leaving the security of my home to come here during this time of pandemic? Of course there are, but whatever risks I have taken today are nothing in comparison to the suffering being faced by those who are leaving home and family because this is the only hope they have for themselves and their children.
The situation here at the border has challenged all of us to work more closely together and in a graced way, has bridged gaps between Catholics, Protestants and other faith communities and also brought us to work even more closely across borders. Even in the midst of all the inhumanity, the Lord is writing a very amazing chapter in the history of the US-Mexico border and in the building of the beloved community here. The current crisis is bringing out the very best of us and the grace of the Holy Spirit here, is almost palpable.
Today, I was also able to meet with some organizations on the front lines of the current migration crisis that we have been able to support financially through our Border Refugee Assistance Fund. I’m very inspired by their work and I want to thank Blanca Navarrete Garcia in particular, who has organized a maternity support program for expecting moms.
I also want to thank all those who have, and continue to contribute to, the Border Refugee Assistance Fund, which is an expression of the church in El Paso’s solidarity with migrants and refugees who find themselves trapped in Ciudad Juárez as a result of policies such as Remain in Mexico.
This morning, I crossed the US-Mexico border to come here to Ciudad Juárez. I was able to drive across unimpeded. I hope to be able to return later this afternoon unimpeded. But I came from a country where the moral fabric is literally fraying, exposed and naked before the Lord. And the racism which we are again forced to confront in the United States, is not disconnected from the reality here. Racism enables us to look away from the mass of black and brown people huddled at our gates in this city, kept at arm ‘s length, denied due process, denied equal protection and denied a gaze or glance of love.
The attention of the national news cycle has moved on from the border. There are times when change comes as quickly and fantastically as a flash of lightning and then there are times when it happens as the result of persistent erosion. And even though many of us cannot see it, we may be living, right now, in the exact moment, when the American commitment to asylum seekers and refugees has eroded away. Eroded is too deceptive a word. It obscures agency and responsibility. And we are all responsible. A future generation may look back and hang its head in shame that in this moment we did not act.
Respect for the truth demands that I speak up to say that this fundamental right to asylum here at the border really is effectively over.
During World War II, the United States thought it had learned after we felt the guilt of having returned a boat filled with Jewish refugees back to the extermination camps of Nazi Germany. But today we send those who have escaped back into the hands of narco-trafficking gangs, ignoring the very laws we had written.
It’s been just over a year since the dramatic expansion of the Remain in Mexico policy at the border. While the United States government has denied that it places migrants in danger, according to Human Rights First, there have been over 1,000 publicly reported cases of rape, murder, kidnapping and torture of migrants in the Remain in Mexico program.
The COVID-19 crisis has served as cover for the government to turn the screw even more tightly on migrants at the border and I want to speak right now very specifically to the administration’s invocation of Title 42, or the administration’s health orders, to justify the near total suspension of due process.
Yesterday, before Title 42, immigration judges adjudicated asylum claims. Today, Border Patrol agents and CBP officers on the line make that decision and without a second thought every day forcibly return migrants, brutally stripped of the protections of the law, including women and children, to this, now the second most dangerous city in the world.
Yesterday, asylum seekers could be safely paroled into our El Paso community. Today, those who are able to get over the ‘demilitarized zone’ that our border has become, go from being trapped in Ciudad Juárez to being trapped in detention centers which have become petri dishes for COVID-19. There is currently a major and dangerous outbreak of COVID-19 in the detention centers in El Paso as well as throughout the country. Unseen. Unheeded. Who will pay attention? The threat here is not from the refugees themselves but from our insistence as a government that those who have fled here from places where there is a lower incidence of the virus and who are not accused of a violent crime must be detained in unsafe conditions.
And this poison of indifference is exported back to Central America. In Guatemala, some 20pc of coronavirus cases have been traced to irresponsible and reckless deportations of infected migrants back to that country.
Yesterday, we valued the life of babies, toddlers and youth. Today, we run roughshod over the law and forcibly return unaccompanied children, putting them at risk of exploitation, trafficking and coronavirus. I’m filled with fear and horror that with hardly a qualm of conscience we are returning these children back to the very threats from which they’ve fled. How long, O Lord?
The administration’s new proposed asylum regulations, posted on June 15, would mainstream many of these abuses and add others. Anna Gallagher, the executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, has said that these regulations violate U.S. and international law and will eviscerate the asylum process.
Today I raise my voice as a Christan, a pastor, and as an American bishop who has crossed this ‘demilitarized zone’ to kneel before and learn from Christ in the suffering. And I have learned that it is we who are causing him to suffer.
If I may, I want to tell the story of one woman that I met earlier today, let’s call her Clara. She is a mother of two beautiful children, one of them recently born, and I can tell you she’s looking forward to the baptism. The circumstances of her story are truly frightening and to protect her I can’t even tell you what country she’s come from to seek asylum or what forced her to flee. Her children were conceived in the most brutal of ways. But that is not what I want to emphasize.
What I want to say about Clara is this. Hers is a story of hope. In spite of everything that she endured and everything that she is enduring and everything that she will endure if she gets to the United States. Clara is an inspiring sign of strength, resilience and hope. Just like each one of the moms with us today.
That hope shows me that the machinery of darkness which our immigration enforcement has become is not permanent. There will be a day when all of this pain will be no more, when the walls of hatred come tumbling down and when grace will transform the dark present into something better. But it is ours to undo. The Lord entrusts the present moment to our freedom and responsibility. To transform racism and hatred into repentance and reconciliation. To transform divisions ancient and modern into occasions for encounter and forgiveness. To transform the weight of the law into the sweetness of mercy. To stop the suffering.
I close with the words of Saint Paul to the Romans, who after concluding a reflection on how Christians should relate to the law says, ‘Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.’
Editor’s note: The comments were provided by Hope Border Institute, following the Bishop’s comments in Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico.
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