WASHINGTON (November 10, 2000) -- Greater respect for the rights of migrants, improved government collaboration, and changes in U.S. immigration policy are among the initial recommendations of three U.S. Bishops who returned last week from a fact-finding mission to three Central American countries.
"Our mission uncovered several important migration issues which both impact the United States and the countries visited," they said in a statement issued today. "It also revealed the plight of our migrant brothers and sisters whose basic human dignity and rights often are infringed upon during their journey."
The delegation visited Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras October 29 to November 4 on behalf of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops' Migration Committee, and included its chairman, Bishop Nicholas A. DiMarzio of Camden (NJ); Chicago Auxiliary Bishop John R. Manz; and Sacramento Auxiliary Bishop Richard J. Garcia. Bishops Manz and Garcia are members of the Migration Committee.
"Primary among our concerns is the treatment of migrants whose only intention is to improve the lives of themselves and their families," they said. "We found that government policies toward migrants in the region, often supported by the U.S. government, fail to respect the rights of migrants and, in many cases, subject them to inhumane treatment."
They called on Congress to investigate a U.S. supported regional initiative called Operation Forerunner. The program is intended to crack down on human smugglers, or so-called "coyotes," but which actually has more often targeted migrants.
The delegation also saw firsthand the impact of changes in U.S. laws enacted in 1996 which require the deportation of individuals with past criminal offenses. The U.S. Catholic Conference opposes the deportation of individuals of were convicted on minor offenses in the past, who have paid their debt to society, and who no longer pose a threat.
"Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, which are still recovering from the ill-effects of civil war and natural disaster, are neither economically nor socially prepared to easily assimilate returnees into their countries," the Bishops said. "In fact, migrants who are returned often remain for only a short time before making another effort northward."
They also called for passage of the Latino and Immigrant Fairness Act, which would offer permanent residency to nationals of the three countries who fled civil strife in the 1980s and early 1990s.
"Passage of this bill before the end of the year would ensure that Central American nationals are not deported back to their developing countries and that remittances -- billions of dollars sent to the region each year from the U.S.-based nationals -- continue to assist in regional development," they said.
Finally, they said a key part of the immigration equation is U.S. foreign assistance to the region, including the cancellation of foreign debts and support for regional economic initiatives.
"Underdevelopment and poverty in these countries continues to push persons to find employment elsewhere, often at the expense of family unity and, in some instances, human life."
They urged cooperation among U.S. and Central American government to work toward regional migration policies which uphold the basic human dignity of all migrants and their families.