NEW YORK — Hope Border Institute executive director Dylan Corbett see’s firsthand the hardship thousands of people face in Ciudad Juárez – the Mexican city opposite the border to El Paso, Texas – while they wait in limbo to pursue their asylum cases and hopefully enter the United States.
“It does not have the infrastructure and resources to handle these populations,” Corbett said.
“There are severe medical needs. We’ve had to bury migrants that have not received proper medical attention. They don’t have access to education. Some families are there for the long term so the children are missing several months, sometimes years, of school. There’s a lack of work. There’s a lot of physiological-social needs because of the stress they have endured.”
Wednesday, the Migrant Protection Protocols policy – known as the “remain in Mexico” program that keeps asylum seekers on the Mexico side of the border – was suspended, part of a handful of immigration related executive actions President Joe Biden signed on day one.
In the past two days U.S. bishops and Catholic immigration advocates have expressed their support for the executive actions. Other actions included the preservation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, reversing the travel ban from predominantly Muslim countries and halting production of the border wall.
Biden also introduced an immigration bill that would provide pathway for 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States.
“We applaud President Biden’s restoration of the DACA program, and we also strongly encourage him and the U.S. Congress to immediately enact legislation that provides a path to citizenship for Dreamers,” Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Auxiliary Bishop Mario Dorsonville of Washington said in a statement.
Dorsonville and Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York issued a separate statement on the president’s reversal of the Muslim ban “which will help ensure that those fleeing persecution and seeking refuge or seeking to reunify with family in the United States will not be turned away because of what country they are from or what religion they practice.”
In a third statement Dorsonville said other actions like the 100-day moratorium on certain deportations to allow the Department of Homeland Security to review its policies and practices are “important first steps towards ensuring that immigration enforcement in our country is balanced and humane.”
While they are appreciative, Corbett and others note it’s important to hold the Biden administration accountable when it comes to their immigration reform promises.
In a conversation with Crux Ashley Feasley, the USCCB Migration Refugee Services director of policy, said executive actions are helpful, but can only go so far.
“The bishops have long called for legislative reform,” Feasley said. “The need for legislative reform is really illustrated by the number of executive orders issued by both Republicans and Democrats in the last few administrations.”
Corbett said there were a lot of hopeful signs, but when it comes to the Migrant Protection Protocols, suspension isn’t enough: Asylum seekers who are part of the program must stay where they are pending further information from U.S. government officials, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
“We work with this community every single day so there is still a lot of uncertainty about what’s going to happen next, and frankly we’re not sure what’s going to happen next. It’s great to see the program suspended but we need to see asylum,” Corbett told Crux.
Hosffman Ospino, president-elect of the Academy of Catholic Hispanic Theologians of the United States, said some of the actions were the “low hanging fruit” of the Biden-Harris presidency, since they just reversed the executive actions of the Trump administration.
He cautions that former President Barack Obama and Biden – then the vice president – couldn’t get the DREAM Act through Congress.
“These are good steps forward and let’s hope Congress delivers,” Ospino told Crux. “Advocacy groups including the Catholic church need to be on top of this particular topic and be proactive putting fire under the feet of this administration. We cannot allow as a society, as a Catholic church, to see our sisters and brothers, Catholic and non-Catholic, live in the margins of society.”
Ospino also recognized that millions in the country have a different view of immigration – citing nationalism “that has been brewing in society in the last decades.”
“We need to have serious conversation and not just private conversation, but public conversation about who we are as a society,” Ospino said.
“Right now, we get snippets about who white supremacists are, who Black Americans are, snippets about the middle class, the upper class, immigrants, name every group. All of these snippets are mediated by ideology, by shortness of language used in social media and different people who want to manipulate the message,” he continued.
“I would love to see churches, our schools, our universities, our government having good conversations. It’s time to disagree, but let’s disagree in such a way we educate in the process.”
Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg