Chairman, U.S. Catholic Bishop's Committee on Migration
The Death of 18 Migrants in Victoria, Texas
May 16, 2003
The tragic deaths of 18 migrants by asphyxiation in the back of a truck May 14 is another example of the dangers posed when migrants from Mexico and other nations in Central and South America attempt to cross the U.S. border in search of opportunity. I offer my deepest sympathies and prayers to the families of the victims of this tragedy.
Since 1995, more than 2300 migrants have lost their lives attempting to enter the United States along our southern border. These deaths, and the deaths of the 18 migrants in Victoria, Texas, are, in part, the result of the ongoing border blockade strategy which our nation has pursued since the beginning of Operation Gatekeeper in 1993. This strategy, which has been characterized by more than a tripling of Border Patrol agents and the construction of fencing along our southern ports-of-entry, has driven migrants, desperate to find work to support themselves and their families, into remote and dangerous areas of the U.S. Southwest. At times, as in the death of the 18 migrants, it has driven them to pay thousands of dollars to unscrupulous smugglers.
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. We renew our call, made with our brother Mexican bishops in January, for reform in U.S. immigration laws. 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. Such reform would eliminate the current environment of desperation in which smugglers and traffickers flourish.
Undocumented workers labor in a variety of industries in this nation, such as agriculture, service and entertainment, and construction. The United States, as well as countries of origin, benefit from their labor through the generation of taxes, Social Security taxes, and remittances. 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. This unjust system must be abandoned and replaced with an immigration regime which provides legal pathways for migrants to live and work in dignity in our nation. Without such changes, migrant deaths will continue to increase, especially as we approach the hot summer months ahead.
I offer my prayers for all those who, motivated by the need to survive and to support their families, find themselves risking their lives to obtain work in the United States. I urge our elected officials to reconsider current U.S. border policy and to initiate discussions toward broad immigration reform which regularizes the status of those working and contributing to their communities and revamps the family-based and employment-based immigration system.