Tucson, Ariz., Dec 5, 2019 / 03:59 pm (CNA).- The U.S. government’s “Remain in Mexico” policies put vulnerable migrants at risk of kidnapping, rape, cartel violence, gang activity, and other dangers across the border, the Catholic Bishop of Tucson, Arizona said this week.
“The Migrant Protection Protocol is a policy that does not provide protection to these most vulnerable people and in fact has placed them in significant danger in cities that cannot adequately assist them,” Bishop Edward J. Weisenburger of Tucson said Dec. 2. For these reasons I call on others of good will to oppose this policy and to join me in communicating this opposition to our congressional delegation.”
The Migrant Protection Protocols, also known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy, were announced in January 2019 by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. These policies have meant between 50,000 and 60,000 asylum seekers, mainly families with children, have remained in border cities like Tijuana, Juarez, Nuevo Laredo and Matamoros while their cases are processed by immigration courts – a procedure that may take years.
“The numbers of people forced across the border have overwhelmed the cities, the humanitarian aid organizations and the Mexican Government,” Weisenburger said.
Sanitary conditions in some areas are so bad in some areas that 2,500 people share only three toilets. Pregnant women receive only one bottle of water per day. Families and children live in “makeshift tents on sidewalks,” the bishop said.
“In addition to the inhumane conditions in which the people must remain, they are subject to extortion and kidnapping by cartels and gangs, 364 rapes and assaults have been reported in one city, and daily threats of violence when the family has no money to pay the extortion,” said Weisenburger.
The government’s “Remain in Mexico” policy had not been implemented in the Tucson Sector until Nov. 22, when a change in policy was announced. The Department of Homeland Security decided the sector was a “weak link” in its efforts to detain undocumented migrants and asylum seekers, the bishop reported.
“The policy is not to apply to children traveling alone, pregnant women, people who are ill or with disabilities or those who were determined to face violence in Mexico,” he said. Still, he added, “There is reason to believe this policy has not been adequately implemented and that many of these most vulnerable people are living in the streets in the city of Juarez where they will be taken from Tucson.”
The bishop emphasized the Christian duty to aid migrants, asylum seekers and others in need.
“As Catholics, we are bound by faith to see all people as one family created in the image of God. We are called to offer hospitality to those who need us,” he said. “We are required to treat all with dignity and respect because they are our sisters and brothers. We are called to walk in solidarity with migrants on their journey.”
He pointed to the work of the Tucson diocese’s Catholic Community Services, which has been operating its migrant shelter Casa Alitas for six years. So far in 2019 it has aided 20,000 people, mainly families with children, as they travel to meet their sponsors and take part in the legal process to seek asylum.
“All people assisted at Casa Alitas are provided medical screening, clothing, food, assistance with transportation, a clean bed and a safe place to recover from the trauma of an arduous journey,” he said. “Few if any of these resources are available in Juarez.”
“Instead of care, concern and dignity these same families are being pushed into the street facing danger and the uncertainty if and when they will be given to opportunity to present their case to an immigration official,” said the bishop.
A Catholic-run migrant shelter in El Paso, Texas, across the U.S.-Mexico border from the city of Juarez, closed in mid-2019 because the migrants it would have assisted were barred from entering the country. After opening in 2018, before the policies changed, the shelter had been taking in 40 to 80 migrants per day after the migrants were cleared by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.
As a whole, the U.S. bishops have been critical of the Trump Administration and previous administrations’ handling of migration.
In a March 13 joint statement, Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, and Sean Callahan, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services said the “Remain in Mexico” policy “needlessly increases the suffering of the most vulnerable and violates international protocols.”
“We steadfastly affirm a person’s right to seek asylum and find recent efforts to curtail and deter that right deeply troubling. We must look beyond our borders; families are escaping extreme violence and poverty at home and are fleeing for their lives,” the statement said.
The Trump administration has justified its policies on several grounds, including the need to limit the number of false asylum claims.
The number of asylum claims has dramatically increased over the last decade, with very few asylees being allowed to stay. In 2009, there were 35,811 people who applied for asylum in the United States, and 8,384 were granted. In 2018, that number had more than quadrupled to 162,060 claims, with 13,168 actually granted.