NEW YORK – As the number of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border continues to soar, more than a dozen Catholic bishops from both countries issued a reminder on Thursday that “there is a shared responsibility of all nations to preserve human life and provide for safe, orderly, and humane immigration, including the right to asylum.”

The joint statement from bishops of each country comes at a time when thousands of children and families have continued to arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border in recent weeks at a rate that’s led to overcrowded and packed border facilities.

Children and families in particular, the bishops ask the government to prioritize.

“We maintain that family unity must be a vital component of any response. We ask that special attention be given to particularly vulnerable populations, such as children,” the bishops wrote. “We strongly urge that structures be put in place and reforms in our laws be made to both promote a welcoming culture for our sisters and brothers and respect the sovereignty and safety of our countries.”

Young unaccompanied migrants, ages 3 to 9, watch television inside a playpen March 30, 2021, at the holding facility in Donna, Texas, set up in February by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, an agency within the Department of Homeland Security. (Credit: Dario Lopez-Mills/Pool via Reuters via CNS.)

After the Biden administration let journalists into a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility in Donna, Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley, for the first time on Tuesday, it was reported that there were over 4,000 people – children and families included – in a space designed for 250.

There were 5,767 migrant children in custody on Sunday, CNN reported. In the Donna facility, reports also indicate many children have been held for more than 72 hours, the legal limit. Pictures show children crammed lying side by side in plastic lined pods. Others show the youngest children crowded into a playpen.

A CBP update from February states that it encountered over 100,000 people attempting to enter the country along the southwest border that month. These resulted in 72,113 expulsions from the border under the Title 42 policy, which allows U.S. authorities to expel migrants caught crossing on the grounds of public health. Most single adults continue to get expelled under the policy.

In the statement, the bishops note that they witness the “daily dilemma that our migrant sisters and brothers face.” And “for most, the decision to migrate is not motivated by an indifference toward their homeland or the pursuit of economic prosperity; it’s a matter of life or death.”

They go on to call on both governments to work alongside other countries in the region to eliminate the conditions that compel people to migrate in the first place.

On the U.S. side of the border, the statement was signed by Auxiliary Bishop Mario Dorsonville, chairman of the U.S. Bishops Conference Committee on Migration. The other signatories include bishops along the border: Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, Bishop James Tamayo of Laredo, Bishop Edward Weisenburger of Tucson, Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Bishop Peter Baldacchino of Las Cruces, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego, Bishop Michael Sis of San Angelo and Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio.

It was also signed by several Mexican bishops: Bishop José Guadalupe Torres Campos of Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, head of the Episcopal Dimension of Pastoral Ministry of Human Mobility; Bishop Jesús José Herrera Quiñones of Nuevo Casas Grandes, Chihuahua; Bishop Alonso Garza Treviño of Piedras Negras, Coahuila; Bishop Enrique Sánchez Martínez of Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas; Bishop Eugenio Andrés Lira Rugarcía of Matamoros, Tamaulipas; and Bishop Hilario González García of Saltillo, Coahuila.

The final reminder from the bishops recognizes that it’s Holy Week. As the world enters Holy Week, the bishops write, “we experience the power of love in Christ’s Death and Resurrection, we feel encouraged to keep going, helping migrants, conscious that while the way ahead is long and arduous, it is not impossible if we journey together.”

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