WASHINGTON (May 16, 2003) -- The tragic deaths of 18 migrants smuggled into Texas this week are the result of a "flawed and inhumane" border policy which must be reformed, according to the chairman of the bishops' Committee on Migration.
The tripling of Border Patrol agents since 1993 has merely forced migrants, "desperate to find work to support themselves and their families," to pursue life threatening ways to cross from Mexico into the United States.
"Legal avenues must be created to accommodate the flow of migrant labor into the United States and allow them to work in dignity and with protections afforded all U.S. laborers," said Auxiliary Bishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami in a statement released today. "Such reform would eliminate the current environment of desperation in which smugglers and traffickers flourish."
The migrants' deaths this week are believed to be the deadliest incidence of smuggling in nearly two decades. The abandoned semi-tractor trailer that was discovered near Victoria, Texas, Wednesday, carried more than 60 people stuffed into the sealed trailer. Of the 18 who suffocated, the youngest was believed to be about 5-years old.
"Since 1995, more than 2,300 migrants have lost their lives attempting to enter the United States along our southern border," Bishop Wenski said.
He noted that both the United States and the migrants' native countries benefit from their presence here "through the generation of taxes, Social Security taxes, and remittances back to families in Central and South America."
"While their hard work helps fuel the U.S. economy, they must risk their lives to obtain work here and are often victims of a system which accepts the benefits of their labor while denying them appropriate protections," Bishop Wenski said.
"It is time for our elected officials to acknowledge that the border blockade strategy our nation has pursued since 1993 is a flawed and inhumane policy," Bishop Wenski said. "We renew our call, made with our brother Mexican bishops in January, for reform in U.S. immigration laws."
NOTE: The full text of Bishop Wenski's statement is available on the Web at: www.usccb.org/comm/archives/2003/03-101a.shtml