FAIRFIELD, Connecticut – In Bishop Mark Seitz’s initial response to an attempt by the state of Texas to shut down a Catholic migrant shelter in El Paso, he noted how the situation highlights the challenge such organizations face balancing federal and state responses with their own mission to serve.

“On the one hand, we are challenged by serious federal neglect to provide a safe, orderly and humane response to migration at our southern border,” Seitz, the bishop of El Paso, said in a Feb. 22 statement. “On the other hand, we are now witnessing an escalating campaign of intimidation, fear and dehumanization in the State of Texas.”

Ultimately, a judge determined on March 10 that the shelter, Annunciation House, could remain open while the dispute between it and the state works through the civil court process; a temporary victory. The ruling did not, however, change the reality that faith-based organizations at the border remain caught between a federal government and state at odds with each other.

In a recent conversation with Crux, Seitz expanded on his previous comments noting that those active in politics are misguided in trying to fit the Church into a political box.

“We in the Church often get caught in that kind of effort to divide us politically, when in fact, we are not guided by the political positions that have been staked out by our various parties,” Seitz explained. “We try to be guided by the teachings of our faith and Jesus Christ, and that really is what needs to guide everything we do, and in this area of immigration, I know it’s hard for people who have those political lenses to recognize it sometimes, but this is where we’re coming from.”

Crux spoke with Seitz, who is also the chair of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Migration on March 18 at Fairfield University in Fairfield, Connecticut, ahead of a lecture he gave titled “Immigration: The American Story.”

What follows is more from Crux’s conversation with Seitz. It has been edited for length and clarity.

Crux: Has it become more difficult to work with federal and state authorities? As they’ve become more at odds, how have you navigated working with them, having those meetings and discussions?

Seitz: On the local level we actually have very good relationships, even still. On immigration questions we’re working primarily with the federal government agencies like the Border Patrol, CBP, ICE. We work with them on a daily basis. I have cell phone numbers I can call if I need to.

They have their job. I have my ministry, but we realize that we can each do our responsibilities better if we’re in contact with one another. Then, we work of course with local governments, the city and the county El Paso, and they have been great partners as well, and add to that the NGOs and so on, and we’ve got a pretty good group of people who collaborate.

What about the state government? What role do they have in El Paso?

The state has sent the National Guard to our area, and they’ve rolled out razor wire. People need to understand that this isn’t your old-fashioned barbed wire. These are razors attached to metal, and they cause a great deal of harm. The state also sent in the state police, but they have a very limited role in a certain sense because they don’t have the authority to turn people back because of their immigration status. There’s a whole process that’s been set up at the federal level to do exactly that.

What was your reaction to the judge’s decision to allow Annunciation House to continue its work?

I was very relieved because the threat from the state to dissolve Annunciation House put into question all of our sheltering work in our community because Annunciation House helps us coordinate it. There’s no one that can easily fill their role, not to mention the fact that they’re also sheltering hundreds of people.

It concerns me a great deal because of the good work I’ve seen Annunciation House do through the years, but also for the people themselves. Many people, including the attorney general, have been suggesting that Annunciation House is somehow involved in human trafficking. The truth is actually the opposite. Annunciation House is actually protecting people who would otherwise be likely to be trafficked if they were left on the streets, vulnerable with no place to go, and seeking help from anyone who would offer it. Annunciation House is a place with carefully vetted volunteers who are looking to the overall good of that individual person, and it’s a bulwark against human trafficking.

You often talk about the need for comprehensive immigration reform from Congress. Do you fear that it will get kicked further down the road because it’s an election year?

It’s very difficult to predict, but we’re hoping to get through this election cycle because the rhetoric always ramps up at this time, and both political parties are right now buying into policies that we have great concern about in terms of recognizing the basic human rights of those who are coming and making sure that we’re not sending people literally to their deaths by our actions.

So, the election year is tough, and we always hope that there will be calmer, more thoughtful approaches once the election is over and. I think people have good hearts and they would want to find a very humane way of having an orderly border, which we all want, making it possible for people who have to escape for the sake of their lives, and that of their family, to be able to do that, for people who need to work to be able to fill jobs that are not being filled by people in this country but are essential works.

That’s what migrants do, and so we can, we believe, find an orderly and humane response.

You’re on the east coast right now at Fairfield University. What is your message to people nationwide who don’t get to see what happens on the border every day, or the work at the border?

Meet an immigrant. Listen to the immigrant as they tell you their story, and then come to a decision about your position on immigration. The more you meet, the more you will see the vast, vast, majority of those who are coming are people like you and me who just want a safe place for their family.

Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg