Bishops Note Hopes for Obama-Calderón Meeting

Mexican, US Prelates Offer Joint Statement

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WASHINGTON, D.C., MAY 20, 2010 ( Secure borders and safe populations don’t have to come at the price of human dignity and basic rights, the U.S. and Mexican bishops are affirming.

Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration, and Archbishop Rafael Romo Muñoz of Tijuana, director of the Mexican bishops’ office for the Pastoral Dimension of Human Mobility, affirmed this in a joint Spanish-English statement Wednesday.

The declaration comes as Mexican President Felipe Calderón is visiting Washington for a trip that has included a joint press conference with Barack Obama and private meetings with him; an address to a joint session of Congress today; and a state dinner Wednesday.

«Specifically, we urge both leaders to focus upon the issue of immigration and how it impacts the most vulnerable: the migrant worker and their families,» the bishops wrote. «While we respect the obligation of both countries to ensure the integrity of their borders and the security of their peoples, we believe they can achieve these goals without sacrificing the basic human dignity and rights of the migrant.»

The prelates called for changes on both sides of the border, saying immigration reform must be a priority for the United States so as to provide «sufficient legal visas or legal status for immigrants to work in jobs that are important to the U.S. economy.» And for Mexico, the bishops encouraged changes so that migrants are not abused by corruption, and the «creation of living-wage employment for low-skilled workers, so that they can stay at home and support their families in dignity.»

Information and money, but not people

Bishop Wester and Archbishop Romo affirmed that their respective countries «have an opportunity to work together to prevent illegal immigration in a humane manner, not in a way which places total emphasis on enforcement measures.»

«While both countries exchange commerce, information, and capital on a regular basis, the movement of labor has yet to be regularized, to the detriment of the basic rights of human beings,» they declared.

The bishops called the border situation a «crisis,» noting «drug cartels and human smuggling networks battling with law enforcement and placing citizens of both sides of the border at risk.»

But they affirmed: «Repairing the immigration laws in both countries would help take migrants out of the enforcement equation and would permit law enforcement to focus their limited resources on criminal networks.»

The prelates concluded by urging the presidents to «work cooperatively» for a «safe border and a humane and fair immigration system.»

«Only through bi-national cooperation will this issue be solved,» they said, «in a manner which serves the interests of both nations, upholds the rule of law, and respects the rights of both U.S. and Mexican citizens.»

The bishops’ letter comes at the height of the controversy over the passage of the hotly contested Arizona immigration law, which makes illegal immigration a state crime, and not just a federal one.

The presidents on both side of the border have criticized it, while the American public has been shown to support it by over 59%, according to a recent Pew poll. More than 70% of Arizonians support the law.

According to critics, the law would violate human rights by giving state and local police the authority to detain persons they suspect are illegal immigrants, and require legal immigrants to always carry their documentation with them.

The Arizona law, however, was amended to bar such action, stating that a police officer cannot ask anyone to prove their citizenship unless he was first legally stopped «in the enforcement of» a state or local law, and the officer must also have a reasonable suspicion that the person is an illegal alien before asking them to provide proof.

The law currently forbids officers from «considering race, color or national origin when enforcing its provisions.»

It is estimated that some 500,000 immigrants live illegally in the state of Arizona. The state shares 350 miles of its border with Mexico.

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