The bus station in the centre of El Paso now serves as an open-air shelter for hundreds of migrants. The effects of the shutdown of the US Congress, namely, the suspension of all administrative activity owing to controversies on the federal budget, here in this part of Texas, are seen in the faces of these men, and especially of women and children that border guards have dumped in this clearing – three-hundred each day – for more than a week already. In detention centres on the border populations are overflowing, many undocumented migrants have exceeded the maximum period of detention and law enforcement authorities cannot and “don’t want” to hold them since the they have been working with no pay for the past 18 days. On December 26, over 500 of these desperate people were released without prior agreement with the voluntary associations nor with the Annunciation House, one of the largest reception centres run by the diocese. “Authorities released 300 migrants on December 27 – said Ruben Garcia, executive director of the Home – and they continued along these lines until a total of 1500 people were dumped in the streets: a planned humanitarian crisis.” People are stranded at bus stations, airports and in a local park. Children and families left without money, train tickets or food, without access to a telephone.
Migrants remain in El Paso one or two days, until their families or rescuers pay their bus tickets or airfares to reach other destinations in the United States. Others are hosted for longer periods in reception centres set up by volunteer workers. “It’s an inhuman, inconceivable situation – reiterated Msgr Mark J. Seitz, bishop of El Paso -. When taking in refugees our Government has the responsibility to cater to their basic needs. As US citizens we are far from proud of such situations.”
On January 6 the US Catholic Church inaugurated the National Migration Week: prayer and reflection gatherings will be ongoing until January 12 along with proposals and projects for migrants. Refugees, victims and survivors of trafficking will be engaged in “Building Communities of Welcome”, as highlighted in the title chosen for this celebration which underlines the commitment of Catholics in showing solidarity towards new immigrants and accompanying them along the integration process.
But the numbers of El Paso, Browsnville, of Rio Grande Valley, show that no celebrations would suffice. Every week, actually, every day, the reality of migrants bursts into the life of parishes, associations, and of all those who relentlessly endeavour to restore human dignity to people fleeing from violence and hunger. El Paso has managed to contain the humanitarian crisis because schools were closed and many teachers voluntarily gave a helping hand, while parishes and Catholic institutions welcomed migrants inside their structures.
While the border with Mexico is a slippery slope on which President Trump is flexing his muscles in order to persuade the new Congress to approve a spending bill of $5 billion for the construction of a wall, the immigration issue is a complex one, which cannot be addressed purely in terms of emergency or threats.
The Catholic Church is calling for a reform of the migration system that does not trample upon human rights and which, above all, does not envisage the separation of families.
In the past ten years 7.4 million migrants have become US citizens, thereby contributing to the Country’s growth with a tax contribution of 11.74 billion dollars. Even undocumented immigrants brought into the United States as children through the DACA program, have been allowed to study and work, paying 1.7 million taxes every year. But the US administration and Congress keeps them in a limbo without directives. If the wall is approved they could either be expelled or allowed to remain. An efficient reform of the migration system cannot fail to take refugees into due account , especially given the long history of reception of migrants into the United States.
Over 3.3 million refugees have been integrated into the Country since 1975, constituting a precious workforce.
Conversely, the decisions of the Trump administration were played to the lowest common denominator by cutting refugee quotas every year to the lowest figures ever recorded in the history of the Country. In the meantime, according to statistical reports, most migrants flee from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, where families live under threat and with no future prospects except drug production and trafficking. Over 41 thousand unaccompanied children have fled from this death Triangle in the year 2017 alone – low figures compared to the year 2015, when 110 thousand arrived into the US.
“Instead of contributing to improving the situation in their Country of origin – added bishop Seitz – a situation that was largely created by our own nation in many different ways, especially in terms of addiction to illegal drugs, we mistreat those who seek shelter in our Country, to the extent of hoping that others shall arrive no more. They risk their own life, while we, citizens of one of the richest countries in the world, should face the consequences of our hardened hearts.”