WASHINGTON (January 24, 2003) -- Calling migration an issue that "can no longer be ignored," the Chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Migration Committee today formally released an unprecedented joint pastoral letter on migration by the Mexican and U.S. bishops.
"In Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope we call attention to the simple fact that our current immigration system is broken and must be reformed," said Auxiliary Bishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami at a news conference here today. "The consequences of this flawed system – the exploitation, abuse, and even the death of migrants – are morally unacceptable."
The statement calls for the presidents of Mexico and the United States to resume bilateral talks on migration and outlines what an agreement between the two countries should look like. It calls on Congress to enact immigration reform that respects the human dignity of immigrants, and at the same time, calls for changes within Church structures to better respond to the needs of the migrant.
Bishop Wenski said migration between Mexico and the United States is "necessary and beneficial," and that "it is disturbing that many policy makers condemn the presence of the undocumented while quietly acquiescing to a system which benefits from their labor without recognizing their basic rights."
"Laborers from Mexico and the nations of Central America have helped fill jobs in a variety of important industries," said Bishop Wenski. "According to the Pew Hispanic Center, of the roughly 5 million undocumented workers in the U.S. labor force, one million are employed in manufacturing, 600,000 in construction, 700,000 in restaurants, and 1.2 million in agriculture. Close to half are from Mexico."
The statement enumerates a number of public policy challenges and offers responses drawn from the bishops' experiences. Among the bishops' policy recommendations, they urge:
- a legalization of the undocumented in this country, regardless of their national origin;
- reform of the family-based immigration program to reduce backlogs and waiting times;
- an employment-based immigration system that protects immigrants' basic labor rights;
- addressing the root causes of migration such as the need for Mexico to implement sustainable economic development policies, and the initiation of joint border development projects;
- humane border enforcement policies in both Mexico and the United States; and
- protection of human rights.
Catholics are part of every aspect of the immigration process – as pastors and pastoral ministers, enforcement officers, public officials, lawyers and judges, landowners, employers, community leaders, and the migrants themselves. Bishop Wenski said the statement draws on the wisdom of all those sectors.
In addition to the letter's public policy recommendations, it also reviews the unique pastoral experiences of those working with migrants on both sides of the border and makes recommendations for improving outreach, support, and catechesis. For example, it suggests that a more concerted effort is needed in preparing priests, religious, and lay leaders to accompany migrants on their travels and to provide support on arrival. It also suggests a more coordinated exchange of priests between Mexican and U.S. dioceses to aid in the transition for migrants.
Approved by the national bishops' conferences of Mexico and the United States in November, Strangers No Longer marks the first time the USCCB has worked jointly with another national episcopal conference to issue a pastoral letter. Members of the USCCB Committee on Migration and the Mexican bishops' Episcopal Commission for the Pastoral Care for People on the Move produced the document after more than a year of meetings and discussions.
Bishop Wenski said the formal release of the letter today, three months after the USCCB and the Mexican bishops' conference voted to approve it, was deliberate. Minor differences between versions passed in Washington and in Mexico City necessitated a delay, but more importantly, the bishops wanted it to be timed to the anniversary of Ecclesia in America, in which Pope John Paul II called for greater collaboration among Catholics throughout the Western Hemisphere.