WASHINGTON, D.C. — Two Catholic leaders expressed concern with the federal government’s plan to send Central Americans who want asylum in the U.S. to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador where they would be required to apply for U.S. asylum while in one of those countries.

Auxiliary Bishop Mario E. Dorsonville of Washington and Sean Callahan, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, said in a Nov. 25 statement the plan “undermines U.S. moral leadership in protecting vulnerable populations and risks further destabilizing the region.”

They called on the government to “preserve and uphold the sacredness and dignity of all human life” by not turning away from people who are facing a variety of threats in the region and are “in desperate need of help.”

Their reaction comes to two notices published in the Federal Register Nov. 18 announcing the government’s intention to implement asylum cooperative agreements reached with the three Central American nations earlier this year.

The agreements require migrants traveling to the U.S. to apply for protections in one of the three countries they pass through first.

The bishop and the CRS official said vulnerable people seeking safety in the U.S. “should be welcomed and given the chance to access the protection that our laws provide.”

They said they feared the agreements “would leave many helpless people, including families and children, unable to attain safety and freedom from violence and persecution.”

“The governments of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras do not have the resources nor the capacity to safely accept, process and integrate asylees,” the statement said, noting that the Catholic Church in Guatemala has raised concern about the implementation of the agreements.

“Furthermore, these agreements do not address the root causes of forced migration and could further endanger the lives of people fleeing a region that continues to have some of the highest homicide rates in the world,” the statement said.

The leaders concluded their statement by saying the Gospel requires that society “always remember we are invited to embrace the foreigner and to take care of this human person. Let us move ourselves from a culture of indifference to a Christian culture of solidarity. We can and must do more.”

Crux is dedicated to smart, wired and independent reporting on the Vatican and worldwide Catholic Church. That kind of reporting doesn’t come cheap, and we need your support. You can help Crux by giving a small amount monthly, or with a onetime gift. Please remember, Crux is a for-profit organization, so contributions are not tax-deductible.