WASHINGTON — Catholic bishops near the U.S.-Mexico border, joined by other U.S. prelates and Catholic leaders, voiced opposition immediately after President Donald Trump’s Feb. 15 declaration of a national emergency so he can order construction of a barrier along parts of the border between the two countries.
“In our view, a border wall is first and foremost a symbol of division and animosity between two friendly countries,” the bishops stated.
“Furthermore, the wall would be an ineffective use of resources at a time of financial austerity,” they wrote. “It would also destroy parts of the environment, disrupt the livelihoods of ranchers and farmers, weaken cooperation and commerce between border communities, and, at least in one instance, undermine the right to the freedom of worship.”
Speaking at news conference in the Rose Garden, Trump said he was going to sign a national emergency declaration to stave off a flow of drugs, human trafficking, gang members and illegal immigration coming across the southern border.
The president later signed a spending bill that provides $1.375 billion for fencing and other measures along the border — a fraction of the $5.7 billion he had been asking from Congress for construction of the barrier. Declaring the national emergency could grant use of up to $8 billion for the project.
In a separate bishops’ statement following Trump’s announcement, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration, wrote they were “deeply concerned about the president’s action to fund the construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, which circumvents the clear intent of Congress to limit funding of a wall.”
In their statement, the border bishops and the other prelates who joined them stated that while they agree with the president that there is a “humanitarian challenge” at the border, “erecting a wall will not solve the problem,” and they asked Congress to step in with more humanitarian responses.
In his speech, the president said he wanted to build the wall “not just because it was a campaign promise,” but because “everyone knows a wall works” and national emergencies such as the one he is calling for had been used by presidents previously without problems.
The dozen or so bishops in their statement wrote they worried that a wall would drive migrants to more remote regions of the border and risk great loss of life.
When a wall was constructed in the San Diego area in the mid-1990s, for example, migrants were driven, often by smugglers, to the desert of Arizona and other remote regions to cross the border, they said, citing U.S. Border Patrol statistics that showed that more than 7,000 migrants died in those areas from 1998 to 2016.
“The truth is that the majority of persons coming to the U.S.-Mexico border are asylum-seekers, many of whom are women and children from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador who are fleeing persecution and violence in their home countries,” according to the bishops’ statement. “Along their journey to safety, they encounter many dangers. A wall would not keep them safe from those dangers. Rather, a wall would, further subject them to harm by drug cartels, smugglers, and human traffickers.”
They stated that while the country had a right to control and secure its borders, “border enforcement must protect and preserve the human rights and life of all persons, regardless of their legal status.” Instead of a wall, they wrote, Congress should focus on more humane policies, such as reforming the immigration system “in a manner that is just, protects human rights and reflects American values.”
Other Catholic groups such as the Sisters of Mercy and the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach also voiced early opposition to Trump’s declaration.