Cardinal Blase J. Cupich

Remembering our ‘Mother of Exiles’

March 4, 2020

A little over a year ago, the federal government implemented Migrant Protection Protocols known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy. This initiative requires certain asylum seekers who arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border by land to return to Mexico to await their hearing.

These people are sent back even though they have passed a screening with a U.S. asylum officer in order to determine the credibility of the fears that drove them to seek asylum, which is the first step in the process for requesting an asylum hearing. It has been reported that as of December 2019 more than 59,000 people have been sent back to Mexico under this policy, including at least 16,000 children. And, as of last August, over 98 percent of those subject to the policy had not been able to obtain legal representation.

Let’s remember who these people are. They are families who are driven by situations of extreme violence and poverty. They are fleeing their homeland seeking security and asylum because they are often victims of gang violence. And these gangs are largely financed by American citizens who buy drugs supplied by these gangs.

Catholic service providers working at the border have ample evidence of how the “Remain in Mexico” policy has re-
victimized asylum seekers, as they cannot be guaranteed safety and refuge in Mexico while they wait for their cases to be heard in court.

This has led the Catholic bishops of Texas to call for a change in this policy, which I wholeheartedly support. They point out that this policy:

•   forces “Mexico to organize camps for tens of thousands of refugees, thus effectively undermining their right to seek asylum in the United States and depriving them of the support of family members on U.S. soil”;

•   puts “out of their reach the exercise of their right to procure legal representation in their case before the court”;

•   and creates “a situation in which many immigrants and refugees will no longer seek the legal process through established ports of entry but will try to enter the United States through high-risk locations in order to avoid the authorities.”

This policy also raises due process concerns because the people subject to it already have shown they have a credible fear of persecution, yet they are being sent to Mexico, where many may be placed in unsafe conditions without access to family, legal or social support. Indeed, it has also been reported that some asylum seekers who were sent to Mexico were subsequently kidnapped and raped.

Without question, Catholic teaching and the U.S. bishops acknowledge and support the right of a nation to defend its borders and to enforce its laws. We also agree that immigration enforcement is an important part of comprehensive immigration reform legislation, which Americans and Catholics overwhelmingly support. However, enforcement must always uphold the human rights of individuals, including their due process rights. 

Pope Francis has praised our nation’s heritage of welcoming the stranger. He knows that our Statue of Liberty  is called the “Mother of Exiles.” She calls out to the world: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The Holy Father has asked us to be proud of these words and make them our own. He urges us to reject what he calls the “globalization of indifference” toward immigrants and refugees. We must reject seeing them as “pawns on the chessboards of humanity” or treating them as expendable in a “throwaway culture.” 

The issue of comprehensive immigration reform and protection of asylum seekers from violence should not divide us as a nation. Rather, our common heritage as Americans and our Catholic tradition of respect for human dignity should unite us in tackling this issue in a way that makes our “Mother of Exiles” proud.


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