NEW YORK – Ahead of the U.S. Catholic Church’s observance of National Migration Week, the U.S. Bishops Conference Migration Chair is reminding Catholics that they are “compelled to respond with charity” to migrants and refugees forced to flee their homes.

“For millennia, people have been forced to flee their homelands, seeking safety and security, because of factors beyond their control,” Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, the USCCB Migration Chair, said in a September 15 statement.

“Through our belief in Jesus Christ, we are compelled to respond with charity toward those who must uproot their lives in search of refuge, but efforts to manage migration – even when predicated on the common good – require that we also address the coercive forces driving people to migrate,” he added.

National Migration Week, from Sept. 18-24, comes as the nation grapples with a migration crisis that took off during the COVID-19 pandemic. U.S. Customs and Border Protection data for southwest land border encounters shows that beginning in March 2021 border patrol has encountered between 150,000-210,000 migrants a month, peaking at about 252,000 encounters in December 2022, a record.

Over the three-year span of Fiscal Year 2021 that began in October 2020, through Fiscal Year 2023 that concludes at the end of the month, border patrol has encountered about 6.1 million migrants. That figure doesn’t include totals of this month and last, which haven’t been posted yet.

U.S. Catholic Church leaders and immigration advocates have long called for Congress to come together to pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation that addresses the root causes of immigration, and establish better and expand legal pathways for migrants.

The efforts have largely fallen flat. A politicized Congress hasn’t made any headway on comprehensive immigration reform legislation, and the Biden administration has also resorted to deterrent policies that many advocates argue are a step in the wrong direction.

National Migration Week is an annual observance that culminates with the World Day of Migrants and Refugees. Established by the Holy See over 100 years ago, the day is commemorated by Catholics worldwide. Throughout this period, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, are called to reflect on the challenges migrants face, and how they are called to respond.

For this year’s theme, Pope Francis selected, “Free to choose whether to migrate or stay.”

“Migrants flee because of poverty, fear or desperation. Eliminating these causes and thus putting an end to forced migration calls for shared commitment on the part of all, in accordance with the responsibilities of each,” Pope Francis said in his annual message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees.

“This commitment begins with asking what we can do, but also what we need to stop doing,” the pontiff continued. “We need to make every effort to halt the arms race, economic colonialism, the plundering of other people’s resources and the devastation of our common home.”

Pope Francis also highlighted that the ongoing synod process leads Catholics to see the most vulnerable among them – “among whom are many migrants and refugees.”

“The synodal path that we have undertaken as a Church leads us to see in those who are most vulnerable – among whom are many migrants and refugees – special companions on our way, to be loved and cared for as brothers and sisters,” Pope Francis said. “Only by walking together will we be able to go far and reach the common goal of our journey.”

Seitz echoed the importance of a collective effort to respond to the factors that force people to migrate.

“Only through collective efforts to alleviate these forces and by establishing the conditions required for integral human development can people truly avail themselves of the right to remain in their country of birth,” Seitz said. “May God, through the intersession of Our Lady of Guadalupe, sustain us in these pursuits and protect those whose lives depend upon their success.”

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