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Editorial: About the border

The bollard steel border fence splits the U.S. from Mexico in this view east of central Nogales, Ariz. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

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In mid-June, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and various other U.S. bishops joined others across the religious and political spectrums in calling for an end to Trump administration immigration policies that include the separation of children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. Cardinal DiNardo’s fellow Texan, former first lady Laura Bush, echoed his use of the word “immoral” in describing the policy.

Confronted by such criticism, one might ask what alternative the Church proposes. In the United States, proposals are as specific as they are long-standing, dating back to a 2003 document “Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope” from the USCCB. In it, the bishops call for comprehensive immigration reform, which would include earned legalization, a future worker program and policies that are family-based, which restore due process rights and which address the root causes of immigration. The bishops also call for enforcement measures to be targeted, proportional and humane.

Such prescriptions would need to be fleshed out as they are translated into public policy, but one item worth raising up for Catholic consciences today is the question of root causes. When the world reaches high levels of global migration, we cannot lose sight of the factors — war, poverty, other violence — that prompt a family to flee from everything they have and have ever known.

When we see only people and not what they’re fleeing from, we can stop seeing the people altogether. We may assume that people have more say than they actually do concerning the difficult circumstances they find themselves in, or argue that they should have thought about the ramifications of crossing the border somewhere other than at an approved port of entry. Such thinking led the bishops’ chairman of migration, Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, to assert, “Children are not instruments of deterrence but a blessing from God.”

Pope St. John Paul II’s 1996 message for World Migration Day, which focused on undocumented immigrants, could have been written yesterday. The freshness of his words may speak to both John Paul’s prophetic witness and the lack of adequate action on this issue in the 22 years since.

“Illegal immigration should be prevented, but it is also essential to combat vigorously the criminal activities which exploit illegal immigrants,” he says, capturing the challenge before moving incisively to a proposed solution: “The most appropriate choice, which will yield consistent and long-lasting results is that of international cooperation which aims to foster political stability and to eliminate underdevelopment. The present economic and social imbalance, which to a large extent encourages the migratory flow, should not be seen as something inevitable, but as a challenge to the human race’s sense of responsibility.”

Not surprisingly, John Paul II brought a big vision, one not focused on what to do with these people turning up at our border, but one appropriately attuned to the global realities at play — a vision that ultimately reminds us all of our unchanging moral responsibility to our neighbor and the stranger in our midst.

In all of this, the Church calls us out of the weeds of policy and into questions of the spirit that animates it, a challenge to be both big-sighted and big-hearted, of refusing to let fear of the other dictate the day’s final decision. In heady times, shouting and slogans obscure intelligent, respectful dialogue and cooperation. The Church, as always, calls us back to a focus on the common good — and the dignity of every human being.

OSV Editorial Board: Don Clemmer, Gretchen R. Crowe, Scott Richert, York Young

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