(from Baltimore) Mons. Daniel Flores is the bishop of the diocese of Brownsville, Texas. The major border detention and reception centres for migrants are located on the territory of his diocese. In the past weeks he refused to grant a permission for inspection of Church property since the Federal agency was inspecting sites to expand the border barrier.
Mons. Flores, what’s the situation on the border with Mexico and what is the Church experiencing on both sides of the border?
We continue welcoming mothers, fathers, children and families into our centres. All these people have crossed borders and are requesting political asylum. In most cases the government examines their case and then allows them to reunite with their families. We provide basic welfare services such as food and showers, clothing items as well as a passage to bus or train stations nearby. This situation is not new to us. We have been offering assistance for years and not much has changed.
But now there is this caravan …
We are getting organized and we have an open dialogue with Mexican authorities and bishops to coordinate reception. The question is to know where they will enter from: which borders will they try to access?
If they should arrive on our border they will have to cross a bridge to request asylum and they should know that they will be divided into groups – only one group at a time is allowed to enter – which means that many of them will have to wait in Mexico. Also on that side there is consolidated assistance and when they will cross into our territory we will be ready to offer the humanitarian assistance that they need to continue their journey. We have many Catholic volunteers, Caritas, international groups, the Catholic Service Relief (the bishops’ agency for support to the poor) but for the time being we still don’t know which border crossings they will arrive at and how long it will take them. We were told that some families have arrived in Guadalajara, but we don’t know how many of them will decide to stay and how many will continue their journey.
This is not the first time that a caravan crosses the border, why is the latter causing so much fear and concern? This phenomenon is the object of widespread speculation. The caravan is a common feature of all Central-American migrations. People prefer to travel in groups for safety reasons, and their journey is extremely vulnerable especially in Mexico where they risk being abducted, especially the children, or attacked by criminal gangs. On top of this there is a basic misunderstanding: poor migrants are not comparable to a military threat against our Country, precisely because they are very vulnerable persons. Notwithstanding the reasons that make them want to leave, or of the ways in which they decide to travel
we are not authorized to disrespect humanitarian criteria in the treatment of migrants.
It’s the mission of all those among us living out the Gospel, of the Church, and it’s the deep belief of the Pope, a belief that we cannot and must not underestimate. These fleeing families are experiencing a deep crisis and it’s our responsibility to support them.
Trump promised to deploy an army, has it arrived?
The troops have arrived; they are stationed in several areas of my diocese. Under certain aspects I understand the need for logistics in the management of migrants, but the soldiers are not agents sent by the migration agency and their duties are limited by the law. I honestly think that their presence mostly serves as a form of guarantee wanted by the government. But I frankly have no idea of the meaning of this presence. It is for security purposes? Maybe. Indeed, they provide support to the police, which still receive special training to face chaotic situations, to receive asylum-seekers and follow all the stages of asylum procedures. As provided by the law they must take care of every family of migrants who legitimately decided to cross the border separating us from Mexico.
You must have tried to figure out a solution to the migrant challenge many times. Which primary issues must be addressed?
It is necessary to identify a global solution, the phenomenon of forced migration is not limited to the United States; it involves everyone, and we must act at international level to give direction to a situation that every Country is called to face today.
Many people refuse to leave their home Countries. They want to continue living there. Unfortunately they are forced to flee for safety reasons and for their own survival, especially in the Americas. Furthermore, migrants in transit zones require greater cooperation between USA and Mexico in providing stronger guarantees and security measures for their protection against criminals. Finally, when someone shows up on our doorstep we can’t ask that person to show us his document. What we need to do is to ask is if he/she is hungry, tired or afraid. This is what Jesus did and it’s what we are all called to do: to recognize and protect human dignity.