NEW YORK – On a recent trip to Honduras, Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso and Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe drove on rugged gravel roads up a steep mountain side to visit poverty-stricken communities where they learned about people’s needs and drivers of migration.

“It’s always been clear to me that if I am to speak on these issues I need to have some firsthand knowledge and it needs to be timely,” Seitz told Crux. “[Immigration] is a regional issue and nobody has the ability that the church has to be able to cross borders and to express what we believe and that is that we are one family of God and we’re not going to come up with solutions unless we work with our brothers and sisters in these other countries.”

Driving up the mountain side they made way for water trucks that delivered water to people at a cost due to a lack of infrastructure. The area is also controlled by gangs. Lack of education and work opportunities, violence, housing insecurity and a lack of essential resources are among the reasons people told them many have fled to the U.S. or elsewhere.

“One of the things I learned was how everything is really against immigrants,” Wester told Crux. “The root causes of immigration are so multifaceted and so ingrained in the society and the laws and the politics and the economics; everything is just stacked against them, and they can never get out of it because they’re constantly trying just to eke out an existence.”

Another part of the prelate’s trip was participating in meetings with Catholic immigration leaders from Central America. The meetings took place from Oct. 25-28 in Valle de Angeles. Dylan Corbett, the executive director of the Hope Border Institute in El Paso and the Vatican’s Section for Migrants & Refugees assistant regional coordinator for North America, Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean was there as well.

Out of those meetings came a call for the governments of Central America, Mexico and the United States to step up and address the immigration crisis that plagues the region.

“We demand migration policies from the governments of Central America, Mexico and the United States which respect human dignity, the international right to asylum, and which do not separate families,” reads a joint statement published on Oct. 28.

The statement was signed by Bishop Luis Solé Fa of Trujillo, Honduras, Bishop José Antonio Canales if Danlí, Honduras, Bishop Elías Samuel Bolaños of Zacatecoluca, El Salvador, Bishop Ángel Garachana of San Pedro Sula, Honduras, along with other Catholic clergy and lay immigration workers and advocates.

The statement, titled “Towards an ever wider we’, from the borders,” highlights what they’ve witnessed as countries of “origin, transit, arrival and return.”

This includes: Structural violence; widespread corruption and impunity forcing Central Americans to flee their home countries; the reality that Central America and the United States share responsibility for political and economic policies that have contributed to weakening of states, an increased number of unaccompanied children; childbearing women and single families seeking to migrate because of the pandemic; sealing of borders and natural disasters; and the lack of an effective and integral response from governments to address root causes of migration.

There was also a specific call for the United States to stop using Title 42 and the Remain in Mexico policy. Title 42 is a border policy that allows the immediate expulsion of migrants and limits their right to asylum on public health grounds. The Remain in Mexico policy forces asylum-seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border to wait until their case is decided.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection expelled a total of 1.04 million migrants under Title 42 in Fiscal Year 2021, according to the latest CBP data from Oct. 25. Advocates of the policies claim they’re needed to handle the unprecedented rise in migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border in 2021.

The statement from Central American Catholic leaders urges the governments of Central America and Mexico “to provide a rapid and dignified humanitarian response to the emergency created by these policies of deterrence and criminalization.”

Seitz also expressed the need for government leaders to understand the situation on the ground.

“They rarely take the step of getting to know the situation as it is on the ground and addressing those situations,” Seitz said. “It’s so much easier to just send money to governments and to beef up the military and the police with armaments, but all of those things are just temporary patches that don’t really resolve issues.”

The Central American Catholic leader’s statement closed with a reassurance for migrants.

“We express once again our commitment to press the governments of the region, Mexico and the United States to address the root causes of migration,” the statement reads.

“We renew our commitment and support for those persons who are migrating in our region, even as we witness with anxiety the response and treatment given by governments to those forced to flee, to migrants who face great challenges and great risks on their path, and to those who have been deported and are attempting to reintegrate.”

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