Border Deaths Prompt Outcry from Bishops

Article excerpt

Catholic News Service

They ask for re-examination of nation's immigration policy

The discovery of the bodies of 14 would-be immigrants in the Arizona desert May 23 brought attention to the ongoing border struggles of the southwestern United States.

Just a day earlier, representatives of several national Catholic organizations met in Tucson, Ariz., for the first of five listening sessions in selected cities that are expected to lead to pilot church-sponsored programs for communities on the Mexico-U.S. border and to a pastoral statement from the two countries' bishops.

The 14 dead were from a group of about 30 led across the Mexican border by smugglers in a remote area about 70 miles from a highway where they might have found help (NCR, June 1).

Temperatures reached 115 degrees during the four days they wandered in the desert before they were found by the U.S. Border Patrol. Twelve survivors were rescued, including one who was indicted on charges of human smuggling.

The deaths prompted an outcry from Arizona's Catholic bishops and other religious leaders, including the president of the U.S. bishops' migration committee.

"Our elected officials must steer away from a one-dimensional approach toward our borders and examine all aspects of national immigration policy," said Bishop Nicholas A. DiMarzio of Camden, N.J., who heads the committee.

In a statement released by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, DiMarzio said that examination should include the legal immigration system, laws addressing asylum and due process protection, and the current treatment of undocumented immigrants who enter the United States.

The three bishops of Arizona issued a joint statement saying the deaths were "both shocking and, tragically, predictable." They said, "the treachery of some of their countrymen, the `coyotes' [smugglers], the harshness of the desert and the interaction of economic forces and immigration policy converged to kill them."

The May 25 statement was signed by Bishops Manuel D. Moreno of Tucson, Thomas J. O'Brien of Phoenix and Donald E. Pelotte of Gallup, N.M., whose diocese includes a portion of Arizona.

"Migrants from Mexico and Central America have been dying in our deserts for years, dying despite the efforts of church and human rights groups to assist immigrants at risk," they said.

"Ultimately, the nation must thoroughly examine the root causes of undocumented migration and seek long-term solutions, especially in developing the economies of our southern neighbors," DiMarzio said in his statement.

"The time has come for Congress and the administration to re-examine our border policy," he added. …